Visit of Indian delegation led by Sri Kapil Sibal , Hon’ble Minister of State (Independent Charge), S&T & Department of Ocean Development, to Antarctica
An eight member Indian delegation led by Shri Kapil Sibal, Honourable Minister of State (Independent Charge), S&T and Ocean Development visited Antarctica from 2nd to 4th of February 2005, the first ever visit by an Indian Minister, to appraise the scientific activities, logistic and other operations being undertaken by the 24th (summer team) and the 23rd (winter team) Indian Antarctic Expedition (IAE) team members. The other members of the delegation included –
(i) Dr.Harsh K.Gupta, Secretary, Department of Ocean Development;
(ii) Shri A.K.Rath, Additional Secretary & FA, Department of Ocean Development;
(iii) Dr.Suraj Prakash Seth, Joint Secretary, Department of Ocean Development;
(iv) Dr.Prem Chand Pandey, Director, National Centre for Antarctic & Ocean Research;
(v) Shri Avinash Dikshit, Private Secretary to Honourable MOS;
(vi) Shri Sajan Venniyor, Production Executive, Doordarshan;
(vii) Shri K.Magesh, Cameraman, Doordarshan.
2. The program during the visit was scheduled as follows:
2nd February: To arrive at NOVO air strip by IL 76-20 flight from Cape Town and to reach Maitri from there by Piston Bullies. To appraise scientific activities, logistic and other operations at Maitri and hold discussion pertaining thereto with 24th IAE team members. Visit the Russian base - Novolazarevskaya and appraise scientific activities, logistic and other operations being undertaken by Russian AE team.
3rd February: To arrive at MV Emerald Sea, the ice class ship of the XXIV IAE, from Maitri to appraise scientific activities, logistic and other operations there and hold discussion pertaining thereto with members of the 23rd IAE; to visit shelf and the site of the 1st Indian base (Dakshin Gangotri).
4th February: To arrive at Maitri from MV Emerald Sea and to visit Muhlig-Hoffmann Mountains to appraise GSI operations and visit India point to pay homage to the three GSI scientists and one naval officer of 9th IAE, who died on 8th January 1990, while carrying out research work at the mountain camp. Departure for Capetown.
3. As per schedule the delegation visited the nearby Russian Base of NOVO to acquaint itself of the scientific activities and other operations being undertaken by the Russian Antarctic Expedition Team. It also spent a night at MV Emerald Sea to have detailed account of the activities and other connected matters from the leader of the 23rd IAE team members and its leader Sri Jayaram. As planned the delegation ascertained the existing status of the Indian Antarctic Program (IAP), took stock of the Antarctic Program of Russia, a leading state carrying out its Antarctic program for over five decades. The delegation in general and the head of the delegation in particular had detailed discussion with the leader Sri Rajesh Asthana, deputy leader Sri Javed Baig, Maj. Rajender Sial, in-charge logistics, Maj. BPN Kumaran, Station engineer and other members of the 24th IAE at Maitri. During its stay at Antarctica the delegation visited Muhlig-Hoffmann Mountains, in parts of which the GSI has been carrying out its intensive survey operations. The delegation paid homage to the three GSI scientists and one naval officer who died on 8th January 1990 while carrying out research operations in these mountains. This site has been included as a Historical Site named India Point by the 27th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Party Meeting held in Cape Town in 2004. It also visited the site of Dakshin Gangotri, the 1st IA base set up under the leadership of Dr. H.K Gupta Secretary DOD and a member of the delegation, in 1983 in record time. The site has been declared as Historical Site under the Antarctic Treaty.
4. During its visit, the delegation was informed by the Russian representatives, that (i) their presence at Antarctica is widely spread - 5 base strong, including the NOVO base established around 59 years back; (ii) many members of their expeditions have worked in Antarctica for 5 or more winters; (iii) average age of technical personnel working there is around 50 years; (iv) existing strength at NOVO base during winter is 15; (v) their logistic operations involve improved communication system, compact and environment friendly handling of the waste and further provide overall good environment for their personnel to work.
5. While appreciating the good scientific work being done at Maitri and the other related operations there, the minister recalled that as a tribute to the scientific work done by the Indian scientists during nascent stages of Indian Antarctic Expeditions which commenced in 1981, India was accorded the status of consultative party under the Antarctic Treaty in 1983 (CPs - initially numbering 12 when the Antarctic Treaty (AT) was signed in 1959 and now numbering 28, Ukraine having been conferred that status in 2004 ). The minister observed that the international regime governing Antarctic affairs is still evolving and keeping the global strategic importance of Antarctica in view, we should conceptualize the various scientific programs and their mode of implementation in tune with our national objective. The programs should blend with what the nation wants to achieve and pursue. Instead of different institutes working on projects with themes conceived by them, the entire process should revolve around a central theme, which the respective institutions should be asked to pursue. Once these projects with long term perspective and the institutes are identified, the work on these projects should be normally continued beyond what the representatives of theses institutions do at Antarctica. Environment at the base and logistic support should be worked out in such a way so as to attract experienced talent to lend support to our national endeavor. Measures should be undertaken to improve working environment at the base and further improve level of communication channels between members of expedition team and their family members. National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR) should be designated as the Nodal Agency to effectively deal with problems arising as a result of deputation of the personnel at Antarctica vis-ŕ-vis their parent organization.
6. Notwithstanding that all claims over Antarctica stand frozen till 2040, when the Treaty will come up for review by the Consultative Parties, our knowledge and information base would eventually be a critical determinant in evolving relationships amongst the various states in affairs relating to Antarctica inter-se and between our country and Antarctic related organizations of various states. Further notwithstanding the use of Antarctica in connection with “Scientific and Peaceful” purposes - enshrined as fundamental principle of the Antarctic Treaty guiding the affairs at Antarctica - we are witnessing increasing tourism and resource exploration and use of resources in Antarctica. For example in the Southern Ocean (where waters of Indian, Atlantic and Pacific Ocean meet, the region which is geopolitically defined to lie 60 degree South and beyond) the krill fishing is being undertaken by many states. The regulatory regime under the auspices of Commission for Conservation of Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) recognizes fishing capabilities of states as one of the main criteria, while processing their requests for krill fishing. The importance of Antarctica as resources rich area shall always remain. Our national policies covering various aspects in relation to theses resources need to be so formulated that we do not lag behind anyone to make use of these resources as per international norms and conventions.
7. India has achieved the objectives for which the Antarctic Programme was launched in 1981. Its scientific efforts have been acknowledged. It has done very useful work in the earth, atmospheric and other related sciences. It has strong presence in all the bodies constituted under the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS). It is presently represented at Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), Committee of Managers for National Antarctic Programme (COMNAP) and Commission for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). It also had the honor to hold the chairmanship of CCAMLR. As part of bringing about general awareness about Antarctica, India would also be celebrating International Polar Year in 2007-2008, the 50th anniversary of ATS.
8. Scientific activities of importance keeping aforementioned points in view point may include:
i) Programs to survey, explore and map Antarctica and the southern ocean area for its sustainable development to create data base for the region covering living and non-living resources;
ii) Climatology with specific reference to climate studies for the country and peaceful exploration and use of resources in Antarctica in terms of the AT;
iii) Research and Technology development and its application to explore and use the living and non-living resources as per international consensus;
iv) Monitoring the Antarctic environment for cause and effect studies;
9. The above list is only illustrative. The programs thus should be identified much in advance keeping the national emphasis. Specific programs and institutions may be identified for proper results. An important related aspect is selection of talent. A new direction needs to be given to that. We should also gear ourselves to tell as to who went wrong where. We need to take all measures which reduce the emotional distance between the scientists and other personnel working in Antarctica and their family members.
10. Studies of Antarctica are important for us. There should be awareness in the country to acknowledge that. As a Consultative Party for last more than two decades we are going to host for the first time the 30th Antarctic Treaty Committee Meeting (ATCM) in India in 2007. It is hoped that the public awareness would further enhance regarding matters relating to Antarctica.
11. At present 18 countries are engaged in operations at 44 bases in Antarctica round the year. India also proposes to strengthen its presence in Antarctica by constructing another state- of -the -art base East of Maitri at a distance of 600 km. Preliminary survey has been completed for the same by the Indian scientists last year and more detailed surveys are being carried out to develop a proposal as per the ATCM norms and guidelines.