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India's Arctic Policy

2024 APR 23

Mains   > Geography   >   Economic geography   >   Miscellaneous


GS 1 > Geography   >   Economic geography  


  • Recently, India completed its first winter expedition to the Arctic region.


  • Indian scientific expeditions to the Arctic during the winter (November to March) enabled researchers to conduct unique scientific observations during polar nights, where there is no sunlight for nearly 24 hours and sub-zero temperatures (as low as -15 degrees Celsius).
  • Since 2008, India operates a research base in the Arctic named Himadri, which has been mostly hosting scientists during the summer (April to October).


The Arctic region, or the Arctic, is a geographic region spreading around the North Pole.


  • The Arctic Circle (66° 33' N) delimits the Arctic in terms of solar radiation.
  • It consists of the Arctic Ocean, adjacent seas, and parts of Alaska, Northern Canada, Scandinavian countries, and Russia.


  • The Arctic's climate is characterized by cold winters and cool summers.
  • The monthly average temperature in the Arctic is below 10 ° C throughout the year.


  • Arctic vegetation is composed of plants such as dwarf shrubs, herbs, lichens, and mosses, which all grow relatively close to the ground, forming tundra.
  • Trees rarely grow in the Arctic, but in its warmest parts, shrubs are common and can reach 2m in height.

Human inhabitations:

  • Only about 4 million people live in the Arctic worldwide.
  • The economy mostly comprises of oil and gas extraction, fishing and tourism.


  • Influence on global climate:
    • Arctic is one of the major cryosphere in the world and have a profound impact on the global climate and sea levels.
    • Its permafrost is a major carbon sink which helps regulate the global temperatures.
  • Metallic and energy resources:
    • The territories in the Arctic Circle have large minerals, particularly, iron ore, gold, nickel, copper and uranium.
    • Projections show that the area is home to an estimated 13% of Earth's reserves.
    • Also, the explorations are expected to pick up as Arctic shipping develops further in the future.
  • Biotic resources:
    • Apart from the minerals, the Arctic regions is also a source of fishing and is often called the ‘kitchen of Europe’.
    • Also, the releases of new lands as a result of melting of ice will lead to potential development of agriculture in the region.
  • Navigation:
    • The melting sea ice in the region could potentially open a new trade route from Europe to east Asia.
    • Trial voyages have already begun along the Northern Sea route.
    • Experts say it could reduce the travel distance from east Asia to Europe from the 21,000 kms it takes to go via the Suez Canal, to 12,800 kms.

  • Geopolitical:
    • The opening of the new sea routes and the scramble for resources makes for new geopolitics in the region.
    • It could redefine the significance of strategic choke points such as the Suez Canal and Malacca strait.
    • Countries have already started making inroads into the region.
    • For example: China has referred to itself as a ‘Near-Arctic state’ in its Arctic Policy and put forth the idea of a ‘Polar Silk Road’ as part of its larger Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • Himadri: Till date, India’s Arctic research objectives are centered on ecological and environmental aspects, with a focus on climate change. India, for one, opened Himadri, its only research station in the region in 2008.
  • India is an observer state in the Arctic council since 2013.
  • National Centre for Polar and Oceanic Research.
  • Mineral exploration:
  • Indian firms have made significant investments in the region’s mineral explorations.
  • Example: India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Videsh Ltd. holds 20% stake in Russia’a Sakhalin-I project.


  • Expand energy basket:
    • Diversification of energy imports remains a crucial endeavor for India.
    • The Arctic, with its untapped reserves and friendly neighbours, offers an opportunity in this regard.
  • Address climate change:
    • India's focus on the Arctic stems from its impact on sea level rise and the potential but yet unclear effects of Arctic ice-melt on Indian monsoons, which are crucial for agriculture vital to its economy and population.
  • Potential investments:
    • With 13% of Earth's reserves, including iron ore and petroleum, the Arctic offers investment opportunities for Indian companies like GAIL and ONGC Videsh, which are already active in the region.
  • Export of manpower:
    • The discovery of resources and new shipping routes in the Arctic highlights the growing need for infrastructure, offering opportunities for Indian collaboration and skilled labor in developments like port construction.
  • Strategic benefits:
    • Strong cooperation with the Arctic countries provides an opportunity to expand India’s ‘Act East’ approach.
    • For example: Linking the coastal city of Chennai to Vladivostok with a maritime route essentially means Russia’s Far East would extend to India as well. This can also help India counter China’s Belt and Road initiative.
  • Benefit research activities:
    • Partnering with top polar research institutions in Arctic countries can aid India's Arctic efforts and help address its domestic challenges
    • For example: Arctic research will help India’s scientific community to study melting rates of the third pole — the Himalayan glaciers.


  • Global Warming Impact: The Arctic is warming at twice the global rate, leading to significant sea ice reduction and large carbon reserves in permafrost.
  • Territorial Disputes: Climate change is prompting more intense territorial claims in the Arctic, despite UNCLOS ratification by most Arctic littoral states.
  • Global Commons Dispute: There's debate over the Arctic's status as a global commons, with potential future disputes as the EU and China show interest.
  • Lack of Guidelines: Unlike Antarctica, the Arctic lacks comprehensive guidelines for stakeholder engagement in resource utilization, with the Arctic Council serving mainly as a political forum without legal authority or frameworks for sea routes and resource management.
  • Rising Accidents Risk: Increased commercial activities like oil extraction and shipping in the Arctic raise the risk of accidents and environmental disasters.
  • The policy, titled "India and the Arctic: building a partnership for sustainable development" represents a comprehensive approach that balances scientific inquiry, environmental sustainability, and strategic interests in the Arctic region.
  • Its objectives are:
    • Understanding the Arctic's impact on Indian monsoons.
    • Linking Arctic and Himalayan research.
    • Sustainable exploration of Arctic resources.
    • Investing in Arctic infrastructure.
    • Developing cryogenic seed storage facilities.
    • Encouraging sustainable tourism in the Arctic.
    • Cultural and educational exchanges with Arctic communities.
    • Monitoring environmental impacts of Arctic shipping.


  • Question of global commons:
    • Unlike Antarctica, the Arctic isn't viewed as a 'Global Common' by littoral nations, posing a challenge for India's engagement;
    • However, to avoid a confrontation in this regard, India has not used the term global commons in the policy, but instead uses the term ‘common heritage’. 
  • Geographical barrier:
    • While countries such as China, Japan and South Korea may benefit considerably from connectivity and resources of the region, India is not strategically located to extract commercial advantages of the region.
  • Chinese dominance:
    • China has engaged in energy deals and investments and has taken concrete steps in formulating close ties with certain Arctic countries.
    • China has referred to itself as a ‘Near-Arctic state’ in its Arctic Policy. Hence, the Chinese presence will make it difficult for India to make significant inroads in the region.


  • Greater involvement:
    • India cannot remain immune from the developments in the region. In this context, India will have to look at the Arctic- both from the prism of climate change and also as a strategic construct.
  • Set up more research stations in the region
    • India’s scientific and research activity, although in its early stages in the Arctic could expand given its experience in Antarctica.
    • To strengthen its scientific capacity, India should set up more research stations in the region. It should also procure its long-overdue polar research vessel.
  • Cooperation and collaboration:
    • Cooperation and collaboration with other countries-whether Artic Council members or Observers-should be increased as this will result in the sharing of facilities and expertise, increasing India’s experience and encouraging friendlier relations with those countries.
  • Encourage private sector participation
    • India’s position in terms of private sector investment in the region is weak. Here, India should encourage businesses and other interested parties to participate more in the Arctic Circle.


Q. Recently, India’s first winter expedition to the Arctic came to a successful end. In light of this, discuss the significance of India’s arctic policy.(15M,250W)