India recently released a draft Arctic Policy document to get public comments. A note accompanying the document read that India seeks to play a constructive role in the Arctic by leveraging its vast scientific pool and expertise in Himalayan and Polar research.
India also aims to contribute to ensuring that as the Arctic becomes more accessible, its resources are harnessed sustainably and in consonance with best practices formulated by bodies such as the Arctic Council.
India had become an Observer in the Arctic Council for the first time in 2013 and its membership was renewed for another five-year term in 2018.
India’s Arctic Policy: Key Highlights
•The draft document outlines five pillars of India’s Arctic policy:
1. Scientific research
2. Economics and human development
4. Global governance and international cooperation
5. Development of Indian human resource capabilities.
•It also lists a wide range of activities that India seeks to pursue in the Arctic including economic, diplomatic and scientific activities.
•The draft policy document further reflects ambitious planning, which is one of the key highlights of India’s recent global engagements.
•One aspect of the draft Arctic Policy centers around climate change and it highlights the intricate link between conditions in the Arctic and the monsoon and Himalayan systems.
•India’s draft Arctic Policy document is open for public comments till January 26.
The Arctic research will help Indian scientists study the melting rates of the third pole – the Himalayan glaciers, which are known to host the world’s largest freshwater reserves outside the geographic poles.
The scientific community had made an observation that the melting ice in the Arctic due to climate change could release new pathogens that had previously remained trapped, thus increasing the possibility of future pandemics.
India and Arctic Research: Background
India under British rule had signed the Svalbard Treaty in 1920, which recognised Norway’s sovereignty over Spitsbergen and allowed other signatories free access to the region along with maintaining a commitment to not militarizing it.
Independent India began its engagement with the Arctic in 2007 with a scientific expedition to the region. India now has a permanent presence in the Arctic region through its research base- Himadri and two observatories in Kongsfjorden and Ny Alesund.
However, questions are raised on the extent till which India needs to engage with the Arctic as it is a country that is closer to the equator than the North Pole. Its draft document noted that India believes that any human activity in the fragile Arctic region should be sustainable, responsible, and transparent with respect for international laws such as UNCLOS (United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea).