India is in a fix over releasing “secret data” on the Himalayan glaciers to the scientists studying the phenomenon of ice melting in the region. This data is so classified that government glaciologist Dr VK Raina was refused access to his own work that he had done during his tenure in the Geological Survey of India (GSI). He was bluntly told that all GSI data was classified, which also includes the water flow from the melting glaciers.
However, Raina was able to use some of the data he had – though at the risk of being hauled up under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) – in his report, trashing the gloom predictors’ claims of fast disappearing glaciers by pointing out that some glaciers have in fact “expanded”.
Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh had released Dr Raina’s report to take on Rajendra Pachauri, chief of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) who had predicted the extinction of the Himalayan glaciers by the year 2035.
Data available with the GSI, which can speed up the research on glaciers, includes aerial photographs of some glaciers on India’s borders. But it is all locked up as “classified” on the ground that its release might be a compromise on the country’s security, probably due to the fears that it might get into “wrong hands”.
Jairam Ramesh and Minister of State for Science and Technology Prithviraj Chavan are, however, lobbying that the information needs to be shared with other nations having interests in the Himalayas, including Pakistan and China.
The issue has been now referred to the Defence Ministry to examine the proposal from the security point of view, as the transparency that the two ministers want for scientific research also reveals all the contours of land on the borders and can be misused by the “neighbours”.
At the last SAARC ministers’ meeting in Delhi in October, Pakistan suggested that data on melting glaciers should be shared with all countries.
Glaciologists are also lobbying for a joint and comprehensive study of the Himalayan glaciers by scientists of six countries, which would be affected with the ice melting, to assess the melting speed of glaciers and its consequence on the rivers originating from the Himalayas. They claimed that there are not less than 9,000 glaciers in the region, most of them are in China, Pakistan and Nepal. They said their governments might also be hesitant to exchange data for the same security reasons.
The Science and Technology Department, under Prithviraj Chavan, even proposed that India could at least share non-strategic data on glaciers with the neighbouring countries. Glaciologists, however, rejected the idea, pointing out that most of the glaciers are on the borders, so all the information on them falls in the category of strategic data.
If India refuses to share data, other countries will also not share their data on the same ground, the glaciologists complain. They fear the research could come to a halt unless all the information on glaciers and their recorded movements over the years flows freely.