- Antarctica has a geographical area of 14 million sq. km and has had no indigenous population (i.e. “Antarcticans” don’t exist).
- However, a few thousand people reside there, in some 40 research stations spread across the continent, throughout the year.
- In 1959, 12 countries – Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the USSR, the UK and the US signed the ‘Antarctic Treaty’.
- Their aim was to prevent the continent from being militarised and to establish it as a centre of peaceful activities.
- Later, more countries, including India, have become party to the treaty, and today it counts more than 54 members.
- The treaty requires each party to take appropriate measures within its competence, including the adoption of laws and regulations, administrative actions and enforcement measures, to ensure compliance with the protocol.
- Countries also signed the ‘Protocol on Environmental Protection’ to the Antarctic Treaty in 1991, which designates Antarctica as a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science”.
Need for the Antarctic Legislation
- The growing presence of Indian scientists in Antarctica and the commitment to Antarctic research and protection prompted the government to adopt domestic legislation consistent with its obligations as a member of the Antarctic Treaty system.
- These laws will enable India’s courts to deal with disputes or crimes committed in parts of Antarctica, and help build credibility vis-à-vis India’s participation.
India at the Poles
- India maintains two research stations on the continent: ‘Maitri’ (commissioned in 1989) at Schirmacher Hills and ‘Bharati’ (2012) at Larsemann Hills.
- It has also launched 41 scientific expeditions every year thus far.
- Together with the ‘Himadri’ station in Svalbard, above the Arctic circle, India is among an elite group of countries with multiple research in the polar regions.