NEW DELHI: The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) on Wednesday approved the acquisition of Polar Research Vessel by the Ministry of Earth Sciences at a total cost of `1,051.13 crore within a period of 34 months. Having its own ice-breaker, research-cum-supply vessel will give India the opportunity to explore the mineral rich area and carry out scientific experiments.
The Ministry of Earth Sciences felt it was essential to have the country’s own polar research vessel, considering the need to sustain two Indian research bases in Antarctica (Maitri and Bharti); dovetailing research initiatives in the Southern Ocean domain with those in the proximal regions of the Antarctic continent; widen the thrust on Arctic research disciplines undertaken through Indian Station Himadri and to provide a suitable research platform for other tropical sea programmes.
The vessel can not only perform dual functions, research and logistics, in the polar region but can also serve as a research platform for scientists to undertake scientific research in the ocean realm including the Southern Ocean.
In the context of India having expanded its scientific presence to the Arctic as well and the country’s growing strategic interests in the Polar and ocean domain, a Polar research vessel would help build up India’s sustained presence and increased visibility in the ocean sector.
Indian Antarctic expeditions have been undertaken every year on board ice-class vessels/ice-breakers chartered from the international market. These vessels have largely been cargo ships capable of transporting men and material and unable to serve as a research platform. With increased demand for cargo vessels and their dwindling availability, the charter charges of these vessels have been escalating over the years.
With India’s entry into the Arctic Council as an Observer along with China, Singapore, Japan and South Korea, it has become strategically important to have increased visibility in the Arctic, too. This will enable India to assume a lead role among Asian nations active in the Polar regions. China already has two research vessels and has been slowly increasing its presence in the Polar region eyeing a shorter shipping routes to the US and Europe, one of its important markets.
The First Indian Scientific Expedition to Antarctica was launched in 1981. From 2004, India embarked on its scientific endeavours in the Southern Ocean realm. In addition, since 2007, Indian scientists have had a sustained presence in the Arctic.