India

Facts & Figures

Arctic Research Station Established: 2007
AC Observer: 2013
Active Polar Icebreakers: 0

India began its engagement with the Arctic region when it signed the Svalbard Treaty in February 1920. In 2007 India began its Arctic Research Program, focusing on climate change. Among other objectives, the Indian Arctic research team hopes to understand the relation between the Arctic climate and the Indian monsoon by analyzing sediment and ice core records from Arctic glaciers and the Arctic Ocean. In 2008, India opened an Arctic research base at Ny-Alesund, Svalbard, Norway -“Himadri” – to pursue research in Glaciology, Atmospheric Sciences, and Biological Sciences. In 2012, it was elected to the Council of the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC), and was granted observer status to the Arctic Council on May 1, 2013.

From 2013 to 2015, India invested $12m in Arctic research, and as the 4th-largest energy consumer with a fast-growing economy and vibrant private sector, natural resources in the region represent an area of significant commercial interest.

India’s state-owned enterprises have entered into agreements with ROSNEFT and Gazprom. In 2002, the state-owned ONGC Videsh (OVL) bought a 20 percent stake in the Sakhalin-I project on Sakhalin Island in the Russian sub-Arctic North Pacific.

This was India’s first consortium investment in oil and gas outside its borders, and today the project is providing rich dividends for the company along with other operating partners. In 2008 OVL spent more than 2.5 billion USD purchasing a UK listed firm with energy interests in sub-Arctic Siberia, however it has been underperforming with the fall in global oil prices.

In 2015, India took part in a number of bilateral and multilateral meetings on the potential for cooperation in oil and natural gas production, including with Russia and China, and in February 2015 the three countries met in Beijing to discuss further cooperation. However, the implementation of Western sanctions cut Vladimir Putin’s 2014 trip to New Delhi short, leaving the first Memorandum of Understanding on partnered Arctic hydrocarbon exploration in limbo.

India’s interests in the Arctic are not driven by any official agenda. India has no published “Arctic policy” and, at the moment, Indian activities largely revolve around scientific endeavors. Much of India’s Arctic work comes under the ambit of the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR), an autonomous research institute under the umbrella of the Ministry of Earth Sciences. Regionally, “India would like to seek an increased participation in the Arctic Council… As one of the leading members in scientific research, India has a lot to offer,” as noted by Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan in 2015.

As its economic and political clout increases India’s Arctic policy may become increasingly ambitious. India has already invested in Russian sub-Arctic regions in oil and gas assets and has shown an intention to partner with both Russian and Western companies to take on offshore exploration. If this does happen, India will look to keep most investments within the Russian sphere of influence, thus building on long-standing Russo-Indian strategic and economic ties.

As climate change represents a major economic challenge for India, Indian interest in the Arctic is likely to continue to grow.

Indian Ministries Dealing with Arctic Affairs

Ministry of External Affairs (www.mea.gov.in/)

Ministry of Earth Sciences  (moes.gov.in/)

National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR) www.ncaor.gov.in/

Kabir Taneja, Independent India Arctic Expert: kabir.taneja@gmail.com