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India and the Northern Sea Route

GS Paper 1

 Syllabus: Economic Geography


Source: TH

Context: The Arctic region holds significance for India due to potential impacts on economic security, water security, and sustainability arising from climate change.


What is the Northern Sea Route (NSR)?

It is the shortest shipping route connecting Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. Spanning 5,600 km, it passes through four seas of the Arctic Ocean. The route starts at the boundary between the Barents and Kara seas (Kara Strait) and concludes at the Bering Strait (Provideniya Bay). The NSR offers potential distance savings of up to 50% compared to existing shipping lanes via Suez or Panama.


How is Russia making the NSR navigable?

Russia ensures the navigability of the Northern Sea Route (NSR) by using icebreaking assistance, as the Arctic Ocean remains icebound for most of the year. Russia maintains the world’s only nuclear-powered icebreaker fleet.

The inaugural nuclear icebreaker, “Lenin,” operated from December 1959 for thirty years. Today, the fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers, overseen by Rosatom’s subsidiary FSUE Atomflot, ensures secure navigation on the Northern Sea Route (NSR).


India’s participation in NSR development is driven by:

  • Growing Cargo Traffic: NSR cargo traffic increased by about 73% during 2018-2022.
  • Strategic Transit Route: India’s geographical location and reliance on sea transportation make the NSR a crucial transit route.
  • Chennai-Vladivostok Maritime Corridor (CVMC): This project, stemming from a 2019 memorandum of intent, shortens transport time to 12 days (almost reduced by a third). It allows efficient trade through the Sea of Japan, the South China Sea, and Malacca Strait.
  • Cargo Potential: A study by Chennai Port Trust shows CVMC can import items like coking coal, crude oil, LNG, and fertilizers from Russia to India efficiently
  • Geopolitics: India would like to complement China and Russia’s potential collective influence over NSR.


India’s engagement in the Arctic:

  • India’s engagement with the Arctic began when it signed the Svalbard Treaty in February 1920 in Paris between Norway, the US, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Great Britain, and Ireland, and the British overseas Dominions and Sweden concerning Spitsbergen. Ever since then, India has been closely monitoring all the developments in the Arctic region.
  • India initiated its Arctic research program in 2007with a focus on climate change in the region.
    • The objectives included studying teleconnections between the Arctic climate and the Indian monsoon, to characterize sea ice in the Arctic using satellite data, and to estimate the effect on global warming.
  • India has set up a research station Himadri at Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard, in 2008
  • In May 2013,India became an observer state of the Arctic Council along with five others including China.
  • India launched its inaugural multi-sensor moored observatory and northernmost atmospheric laboratory in 2014 and 2016 respectively
  • Till last year, thirteen expeditions to the Arcticwere successfully conducted.


Significance of the Arctic region significant to India

Key ReasonsSignificance of the Arctic Region for India
Climate ImpactThe vulnerability of the Arctic to climate change could affect India’s economic and water security.
Natural ResourcesThe region holds vast unexplored hydrocarbon reserves and valuable minerals, contributing to India’s resource needs.
Economic DevelopmentIndia’s economic development in the Arctic aligns with UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Historical EngagementIndia’s connection dates back to the Svalbard Treaty in 1920, with ongoing scientific studies and Arctic Council participation.
Trade and TransitThe Arctic’s Northern Sea Route (NSR) offers a potentially shorter trade route, particularly for India’s sea-dependent trade.
Global InfluenceBy engaging in Arctic affairs, India can assert its global presence and contribute to discussions on climate change and resource management.


Last Year, India released its Arctic Policy, with the aim of enhancing the country’s cooperation with the resource-rich and rapidly transforming region.


Insta links

India and the Arctic


Mains Links:

Why is India taking a keen interest in the resources of the Arctic region? (UPSC 2018)

The frigid Arctic, which keeps losing ice due to global warming, is one of the batteries feeding the variations in Indian monsoons. Discuss. (250 Words)


Prelims Links:

The term ‘IndARC’, sometimes seen in the news, is the name of (USPC 2015)

(a) an indigenously developed radar system inducted into the Indian Defence

(b) India’s satellite to provide services to the countries of the Indian Ocean Rim

(c) a scientific establishment set up by India in the Antarctic region

(d) India’s underwater observatory to scientifically study the Arctic region


Ans: D