India currently has three research stations in the Antarctic: Bharati, Maitri and Dakshin Gangotri. To this day, India has been dependent on outside help to supply its stations. This is now set to change and India wants to build its first polar research vessel in the next five years in order to be able to self-supply its Antarctic bases, said Kiren Rijiju, Minister for Earth Sciences. Accordingly, the minister plans to submit a proposal regarding the ship to the cabinet for approval in the current financial year.
The estimated cost of the ship is $310 million. Rijiju expressed the hope that the proposal would be submitted to the cabinet for approval in the current financial year. If all goes as planned, India could have its first research vessel within the next five years.
The lack of a dedicated polar research vessel has long been a concern for the Indian research community. With the aim of strengthening its polar research capabilities, the Indian government first proposed the acquisition of an icebreaking research vessel back in 2014. At the time, the cabinet had approved a budget of $120 million for the ship.
However, the project hit a hurdle as the selected company introduced conditions that were not part of the original tender process. As a result, the government had to abandon the plan, leading to a delay in India’s ambition to build its own research vessel. However, the government remained committed to the cause and launched another attempt to acquire or build an icebreaking vessel.
The minister announced that the government is currently in discussions with countries that have expertise in building such specialized ships. However, he emphasized that the government prefers to build the ship in India. The minister expressed confidence that India would be able to do so within the next five years, thus further enhancing the country’s scientific work in the polar regions.
With its plans, the country joins the list of countries that are further expanding their Antarctic research and investing in infrastructure in particular. In addition to Western countries such as the UK, Germany and Australia, nations such as Chile, Brazil and Argentina have also started to build their own ice-strengthened ships. China and Japan are also continuing to invest in the construction of such vessels.
Last year, India’s lower house of parliament passed the Indian Antarctic Act 2022, which, among other things, aimed to regulate the country’s research activities at the South Pole. The legislation came 41 years after India’s first expedition to Antarctica in 1981. Traditionally, India’s Antarctic program had close logistical ties with the former Soviet Union in particular and continued with Russia. The extent to which India’s new orientation and increased independence is shaped by the current geopolitical situation cannot be said conclusively.
Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal
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