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Lok Sabha passes Antarctica Bill amid uproar

There were no amendments to the text of the Bill that was passed after a voice vote. Earth Sciences Minister Jitendra Singh said such a law was necessary under India’s obligations as a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty of 1963.

Anjali Bhatia | New Delhi |

The Lok Sabha, on Friday, passed the Indian Antarctica Bill, 2022 amidst clamour from the Opposition for more discussion.

There were no amendments to the text of the Bill that was passed after a voice vote. Earth Sciences Minister Jitendra Singh said such a law was a necessary under India’s obligations as a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty of 1963. It seeks to extend the application of domestic laws to research stations set up by India in the Antarctic region. This is the first Bill passed in this session.

As soon as the House reassembled at 2 pm following the second adjournment of the day, the Indian Antarctic Bill, 2022, was taken up for consideration after Jitendra Singh moved it for consideration.

Replying to the brief debate on the Bill, Singh said the Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959 and India became a signatory in 1983.

The key objectives of the treaty are to demilitarise Antarctica, establish it as a zone free of nuclear tests and the disposal of radioactive waste, and to ensure that it is used for peaceful purposes only; to promote international scientific cooperation in Antarctica and to set aside disputes over territorial sovereignty.

“The main objective of the treaty was that Antarctica is not used for military activity or there is no other misuse, to ensure the demilitarisation of the area. The other objective was to prevent nations from indulging in mining activity or any other illegal activity,” the minister said.

“This is more or less no man’s land. No one should use that land for nuclear explosions. Basically its (treaty’s) objective was to ensure that those countries that have institutions there, restrict themselves to research or experiments related to climate and geography,” he said.

When this Bill is passed, a committee will be formed headed by Earth sciences secretary and representatives from other ministries, he said.

“After the passage of the Bill, Indian laws will be applicable in the area occupied by Indian institutions and Indian personnel living in that continent,” Singh said.

Participating in the debate, Biju Janata Dal’s Bhartruhari Mahtab said the Bill aims at promoting Antarctica as a natural reserve that is devoted to science and peace and to ensure that the continent does not become the scene of international discord.

Congress’ leader in the House Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the Opposition members want to participate in the debate on the Bill but the government must heed their call for a discussion on the price rise issue.

He also called on the government to convene a meeting of floor leaders to sort out the logjam that has caused repeated adjournments of the House through the week.

The Bill seeks to extend the application of domestic laws to research stations set up by India in the Antarctic region. India has two active research stations in the Antarctic — Maitri and Bharti — where scientists are involved in research.

The Bill proposes to prohibit Indian expedition to Antarctica without a permit or written authorisation of another party to the Antarctic Treaty, provide for inspection by an officer appointed by the government and for penalty for contravention of certain provisions of the legislation.