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Devika Sakhadeo | Friday, 19 May 2017 AT 08:47 AM IST
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In his latest book, Dr Jagdish Khadilkar dwells on the importance of Antarctica and the impact its environment could have on India

In his yet-to-be released book Antarctica The Frozen Continent’s Environment, Changing Logistics and Relevance to India, Dr Jagdish Khadilkar explains the connection between India and Antarctica that most are unaware of.

After spending 484 days as the head of India’s first research station in Antarctica, Dakshin Gangotri, Dr Khadilkar returned with more than memories. He came back with a growing love for environment, and that of Antarctica in particular. Now a retired Lieutenant Colonel of Indian Army and a PhD in environmental science, Khadilkar has authored the book to underline the importance of the environment of the polar continent and how it will be vital in the upcoming decades and most importantly, how India could benefit by planning its future developments strategically.

Excerpts from an interview with the author:

How did you get the opportunity to be the head of India’s first station in Antarctica for one and a half years?

For sending a research party to Antarctica, there were interviews being held. I was a Major in the army and had experiences in the desert with the temperatures soaring to 50 degrees. During the interview, I was told that my credentials were okay but my experience with regards to living in sub-zero temperatures wasn’t enough. I told them that I had had experiences with plus 50 degrees, perhaps an experience in a region with minus 50 degrees would balance out my life experiences. I think they liked my answer because then they sent me as the head of Dakshin Gangotri for 484 days.

What kind of research did you conduct there?
According to the Antarctica Treaty System, countries have an opportunity to send teams or parties as we call them. There are summer parties and winter parties. We predominantly carried out research and experiments in the continent on various sciences including  Meteorology, Geology, Geophysics, and Oceanography. Research in these areas even today is vital for the strategic planning of India and its future position in the world.

Coming to the book, how is it different from many other books on Antarctica?
If you try to get literature about Antarctica in India, you would mostly get travelogues. None of them would be based on research and actual experiments conducted there. I wanted this book to be informative of the stance of India with respect to Antarctica and wanted to create awareness about how Antarctica could be beneficial to India in the future.

During my travels over the past many years, I have noted that educational literature regarding this subject and the level of awareness is meagre in India . When I was writing this book, I used to visit the Indian National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research for references and literature. One day while walking to the Centre, I met a man and while conversing, I asked him what he knew about Antarctica. I was astonished to get a reply like ‘I have never heard of this place’. The  person was standing a few metres away from the research and development centre. So, apart from education of the past, present and possible future situations, creating awareness is one of my aims.

Talking about the role India plays in the region, could you give us an idea about how it was before and how do you see a change now?
Well, I was stationed at Dakshin Gangotri, the first station that India had in Antarctica. Now it’s not there, it got submerged under ice. In Antarctica, an area that covers about 1.5 to 2 per cent of the total area is known as Oasis where most countries have their stations, because there is no threat of the centre going under ice. So basically, we have shifted our stations to Oasis and we now have two permanent stations there that are called Maitri and Bharati. Another aspect that we have witnessed some progress in, is the area of research and experimentation. This is due to the locations of our two stations. Both these stations are in different magnetic fields and that gives us an opportunity to do research that covers various dimensions of the same continent. Also, the station Bharati is in proximity with the stations of various other countries which enables us to undertake many operations in collaboration with them. If one sees it practically, India actually has been a late entrant in the Antarctica zone with the first expedition in 1981 and the first permanent office being set up in 1983. Countries like China have entered later than us and surpassed us, making it difficult for us to stand in competition with them.

What should be done to be at par with other countries?
Fortunately, India has progressed well enough in scientific research and experiments. However, the main thing that we lack is self-reliant logistics. Actually in Antarctica, 90 per cent of the time, money and efforts are spent on basic survival. What is left of it is then used for scientific developments. And currently, India is dependent on outside agencies for ships, air transportation, vehicles, etc. So when we lack the resources to be self-reliant in basic survival, it becomes tough to be at par with other countries.

In the book, you have connected the studies and the environment of Antarctica to India. Could you elaborate a bit on this connection and how India could benefit from it?

The connection dates back to the time when Pangaea broke up about 220 million years ago and Antarctica became a part of the Gondwanaland. Here, Antarctica was surrounded by a number of present-day countries and continents which drifted apart later on. One of them was the Indian subcontinent. In future, when we are bereft of our natural resources, we would require to look for other sources. And almost all countries would try to grab a piece of it and work for themselves. To work in that direction, the stipulations of Madrid Protocol that were observed while establishing the Bharati station should be observed. There is also a need for a national dialogue and an Antarctica doctrine must be established. Once India becomes self-reliant in procurement of logistics, we can strategically plan the future courses of action in the region. All of this would simply strengthen the connection between India and Antarctica and help us develop as a country and positively affect our standing in the world.

The book is being published by Bloomsbury and would be released in Pune on June 9.

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