India has been a Consultative Party to the Antarctic Treaty since 1983
In a significant move, India has undertaken the role of facilitating the first-ever focused discussions on regulating tourism in Antarctica at the 46th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) and the 26th Meeting of the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP).
The event, formally inaugurated by Union Minister of Earth Sciences Kiren Rijiju on Tuesday (May 21, 2024), is being organized by the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR) in Goa, under the Ministry of Earth Sciences, in collaboration with the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat. The meetings, taking place in Kochi from May 20 to May 30, 2024, have attracted over 350 participants from nearly 40 nations.

The ATCM and CEP are high-level global annual meetings conducted under the Antarctic Treaty, a multilateral agreement of 56 Contracting Parties signed in 1959. During these meetings, member countries discuss issues related to science, policy, governance, management, preservation, and protection of Antarctica. Established in 1991 under the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (the Madrid Protocol), the CEP advises the ATCM on environmental protection and conservation.
India has been a Consultative Party to the Antarctic Treaty since 1983 and, along with the other 28 Consultative Parties, plays a crucial role in governing scientific exploration and environmental protection in Antarctica. This status allows India to propose and vote on decisions and resolutions regarding administration, scientific research, environmental protection, and logistical cooperation.

Additionally, India can establish research stations,
conduct scientific programs, enforce environmental regulations, and access shared scientific data.
Secretary Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) M Ravichandran emphasized the importance of responsible stewardship of Antarctica.
“Antarctica represents one of the last frontiers of wilderness and scientific discovery. As stewards of this extraordinary region, it is our collective responsibility to ensure that all activities, including research and tourism, are conducted in a manner that preserves its ecological integrity for future generations. India is honoured to lead this crucial initiative at the 46th ATCM, which is expected to bring a series of actionable recommendations to be incorporated into the broader framework of the Antarctic Treaty System,” he said.

The rise in tourism activities in Antarctica has become a pressing issue, with significant increases in the number of tourists visiting the continent in recent years. This surge has prompted the formation of a dedicated working group to create a comprehensive tourism framework. Discussions around regulating tourism have been ongoing in ATCMs since 1966, but this marks the first time a focused working group has been established specifically to address tourism regulation.
Director NCPOR Thamban Meloth highlighted India's legal framework to regulate its activities in Antarctica, including tourism, through the Indian Antarctic Act enacted in 2022. “The Indian Antarctic Act aligns India’s tourism regulations with international standards and collaborates with other Antarctic Treaty nations to achieve common conservation goals,” he said.

India's history with Antarctic research and international cooperation is robust. The country hosted the 10th SCAR (Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research) conference themed ‘Antarctica in a Changing World’ in 2022 and contributed to the International Polar Year celebrations. India has conducted 11 expeditions to the Southern Ocean, and expeditions to the Wedell Sea and South Pole. In 2007, India hosted the 30th ATCM in New Delhi, reinforcing its commitment to the Antarctic Treaty System. Collaborative studies with Norway and the UK on the Antarctic ice shelf and ice rise have also been significant.
Vijay Kumar, Adviser to MoES and Head of the Host Country Secretariat, reiterated India’s commitment to Antarctic research, environmental stewardship, and international cooperation. The country will also provide a platform to discuss the possible induction of Canada and Belarus as consultative parties to the Antarctic Treaty System, aligning with India's broader objectives of promoting scientific research and international cooperation.
“The collaborative efforts of nations within the Antarctic Treaty System are crucial in preserving the pristine environment and advancing scientific research in Antarctica. Through its leadership and commitment, India continues to play a key role in shaping the future of Antarctic governance," said Ambassador Pankaj Saran, Chairperson of the 46th ATCM and 26th CEP.

The 46th ATCM plenary session included a talk by Padma Bhushan awardee Shailesh Nayak, former Secretary of MoES, entitled ‘Antarctica and Climate Change’. The event was also attended by Pavan Kapoor, Secretary (West), Ministry of External Affairs.

The creation of the special working group to regulate Antarctic tourism is in response to growing concerns about the rapid increase in tourism activities. This initiative aims to ensure sustainable and responsible exploration of Antarctica, preserving its unique environment for future generations. The meeting will conclude on May 30, with the adoption of the final report and legal text, reflecting the consensus reached by participating countries.