India’s little slice of the Antarctic

A new place to plant the flag

In the early 1980s, India achieved two major milestones in the field of scientific exploration. The first, and the more famous, was putting then Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma into space, on a Soviet spacecraft. The second was the setting up of a permanent research station on the Antarctic continent — Dakshin Gangotri was established in 1984. A second base, Maitri, was established in 1989 ahead of the decommissioning of Dakshin Gangotri in 1991.

India is now planning to plant its flag at a third site.

Antarctic stations, copyright Indian ExpressThe new site, Sibal says, will be examined under the governing Antarctic Treaty System. What this means that is that besides exploration and scientific experiments to map weather data—and its effect on the monsoons—the Government is also looking at the possibility of asserting ‘‘sovereign rights’’ via domestic or territorial laws to the claimed sectors.

Ocean Development Secretary Harsh Gupta says that while commercial use of the Antarctic is frozen by the 1991 Madrid Protocol, India will put its case for this 600-km stretch of land whenever the legal claims for such usage are decided by the international community. ‘‘Sibal will himself visit the new site and examine India’s legal position,’’ says Gupta, who led the first scientific expedition to establish Dakshin Gangotri in 1984. [IE]