A long-awaited draft on Indian space law has finally been unveiled. It is called the Space Activities Bill, 2017, and its main objective is to “promote and regulate space activities in India.” The need for such a legislation has been felt for a long time since India, despite having made deep inroads into space sector over the years, did not have any legislation so far.
The absence of a regulatory or legal framework became more apparent in the past few years, with growing interest of private sector in space and growth of space start-ups in Bengaluru. The involvement of private sector in core space activities such as building and launching satellites is inevitable for any space agency for growth and wider utilisation of space technologies. Such a multi-player space sector needs a full-fledged regulatory framework.
The draft made public by the Department of Space (DoS) allows private players to fabricate and launch satellites and participate in other space-related activities. This is a welcome move. Till now private companies have only been a supplier of components, fuel and other parts to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). However, the entry of private sector in space business will be governed by a regulatory mechanism proposed in the bill.
It is proposed that all powers to licence private players to launch and operate "space objects" will rest with the Union government (read DoS). And these powers will be quite sweeping. DoS will not only have powers to “grant, transfer, vary, suspend or terminate licence” but also have powers to inspect books of accounts and other documents of licensees and seek all information about partners, directors, etc.
This is particularly worrying because "space activity" under this proposed law not only covers launch of satellites but also “use of space objects” as well as “operation, guidance and entry of space object into and from outer space and all functions for performing the said activities.” This would technically mean even data companies handling satellite imagery or universities operating ground facilities for their microsatellites may also need a licence. If this is going to be so, it is a recipe for a new "licence raj".
Another disconcerting note is the fact that DoS will be the regulator. This will amount to a grave conflict of interest because DoS through ISRO is also a service provider as well as a commercial operator through Antrix. At present, one person heads three offices — Space Commission chairman, DoS secretary and ISRO chairman. If the bill goes through, the same person will also be India’s space regulator.
The bill is a clear indication that the government does not want a separate, independent regulatory authority for the space sector. In its present form the draft bill may not be music to the ears of existing private players and potential investors. In any case, much will be revealed in the rules and regulations. For instance, the quantum of the licence fee to be charged, time frames for approvals and procedures for inspection of books, etc, are all critical issues.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)