In the wake of mounting climate change concerns, India is gearing up to make significant strides in polar research. Union Earth Sciences Minister Kiren Rijiju recently shared plans for India’s inaugural Polar Research Vessel (PRV), a move set to fortify the nation’s capabilities in polar exploration.
A Glimpse into the Past
During a recent session in the Rajya Sabha, Minister Rijiju shed light on the journey that led to this ambitious initiative. As far back as 2014, the Cabinet had given the nod for an investment of Rs 1,051 crore for the procurement of the future vessel. An initial tender was initiated for the construction of the vessel, but unforeseen complications arose, leading to the project’s postponement. The obstacles were tied to conditions set forth by the shipbuilding company, which were not aligned with the original tender terms.
A Renewed Effort Takes Shape
India is now charting a fresh course toward polar exploration. Minister Rijiju highlighted that a new project is already underway, with a proposal awaiting presentation before the Expenditure Finance Committee (EFC). The revised sum for this venture now stands at Rs 2,600 crore, reflecting the intricacies of constructing a vessel capable of navigating the polar terrain.
Expressing optimism, Minister Rijiju revealed his hope that the estimated cost for the PRV will receive the necessary approvals during the current fiscal year. His vision is for the vessel to be operational within the next five years, marking a significant milestone in India’s scientific journey. “I am hopeful that in this financial year, we should be ready to propose this estimate and move in the Cabinet. In the next five years, we should be ready with the ship,” Rijiju stated.
A Quest for Self-Sufficiency
While exploring potential collaborations with countries possessing expertise in polar vessel construction, India remains steadfast in its aspiration for self-reliance. Minister Rijiju emphasized the goal of building the vessel within India’s shores, a testament to the nation’s burgeoning maritime capabilities. “I am hopeful that in the next five years, we should be able to build the ship, hopefully in India,” he affirmed.
Central to this endeavor is the imperative of sustaining India’s foothold in Antarctica. With research bases under the Indian Antarctic Program situated in Antarctica, namely Bharati (built in 2012), Maitri (1988), and Dakshin Gangotri (1983), India’s need for a dedicated polar research vessel becomes all the more evident. This vessel will facilitate the seamless movement of scientists to and from these remote outposts, enabling crucial research endeavors aimed at deciphering the complexities of climate change.
A Multifaceted Exploration Platform
Beyond its role in Antarctica, the polar research vessel assumes the mantle of a versatile platform for scientific exploration. It holds the potential to extend its reach into the Southern Ocean and beyond, propelling India’s contributions to oceanic research. Apart from serving as a research platform, the PRV will also help in research and logistics in the region. Furthermore, the PRV will also aid India’s numerous polar expeditions in the past decade to study the inter-linkages between melting polar ice sheets and weather phenomena in the South Asian region. Given the geopolitical and geo-economic transitions happening in the polar region, having its own PRV becomes all the more important for India to assert its presence and interests in the region.
Reflecting on a Legacy of Exploration
Minister Rijiju’s address also cast a spotlight on another groundbreaking initiative—the Samudrayaan project. Slated for launch in 2026, this ambitious venture aims to delve into the ocean’s profound depths, unearthing valuable insights and resources.
While India stands at the threshold of unprecedented scientific achievements, it is imperative to acknowledge the challenges that lie ahead. While the nation has made remarkable progress in polar research, there remains a discernible gap in infrastructure, research capabilities, and international collaborations, particularly in the Arctic.