By G Gopala Krishna Mayya
Deputy News Editor, Sakshi

Vienna: Has the time come for India to become a part of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)? Should India at least participate in the activities of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) as an observer country even if it doesn't want to become a signatory of the treaty?

Yes indeed, says CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo. He categorically states that India will stand to benefit, and lose nothing in doing so. This journalist from Sakshi was a part of the Indian media contingent which visited CTBTO headquarters in Vienna, the capital city of Austria. During the interaction with Indian journalists, Zerbo spoke at length about the objectives of CTBT, and the benefits that India can gain as an observer nation.

The United Nations has brought in the CTBT agreement in 1996 with a goal to prevent pollution and arrest any further degradation to earth's atmosphere, already caused by then by several nuclear tests. Nuclear tests were conducted indiscriminately when hostilities flared up high between the United States of America and Russia and both countries were at a terrible war. Consequently, several radioactive substances entered the atmosphere in dangerous proportions. Foreseeing the impending dangers, the United Nations came up with a Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT).

However, it did not halt the string of nuclear tests that followed and the CTBT has been brought up for putting effective curbs on nuclear tests. So far 184 countries are signatories of this treaty. This treaty can be implemented only if at least 44 countries agree to it. India is among eight countries which stayed away from signing the treaty. India objects to a certain clause in the treaty that states that only countries which carried out nuclear tests prior to 1967, are to enjoy the tag of 'nuclear countries'. This, India believes, is a biased approach. India continues to remain firm on its decision to not become a signatory even 20 years after the treaty came to include larger issues of geography and security. It is in this context Zerbo's proposal for India to become an observer nation has fuelled some interest.

Observer Country and Benefits

There is no precondition that only if a country is a signatory of CTBT can it participate in the activities of CTBTO. So, by becoming an observer country, Zerbo tells Sakshi, that new technology will be available to India besides several other benefits. He says as he is very much aware of India's objections, their organisation is not insisting that India become a signatory to CTBT. "India is an independent and sovereign nation, and it is well within its right to take decisions on international agreements such as CTBT. However, we are just pointing out that India can attend all our meetings as an observer country," he added.

Zerbo informs that they have the necessary systems with over 300 centres spread across the world to detect if any nuclear tests are conducted in any part of the world, besides gathering information on earthquakes and climate change. All the information thus gathered, will be available to observer countries. He points out that Pakistan has already given its nod to become an observer nation and the international society will stand to benefit a great deal if India also comes on board. He extended the invitation to India to attend the upcoming SNT Summit to be held at Hofburg Palace in Vienna from July 24 onwards. As many as 1,000 scientists from 120 countries will be attending this summit, he adds.

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