Draft Space Activities Bill, 2017

India’s first Space Law, Draft Space Activities Bill, 2017, has been unveiled recently. The new Bill is expected to allow both public and private players to participate in India’s Space Programme. It will allow the private players to build satellites, rockets, and space vehicles for both domestic and global use. Primarily, the new Bill will promote and regulate the space activities in India.

Background

India has been involving in space activities from early 1960s. In India, according to ‘Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules 1961(as amended from time to time), the Department of Space (DOS) is the nodal agency for space activities. The DOS functions with an aim to bring the benefits of space technology and its applications to the benefit of the society as well as to aid national development.

The DOS’s space activities are primarily focused on three major areas:

  • Space Infrastructure: This aspect includes realization of spacecraft for a number of applications.
  • Space Transportation: It includes realization of various types of launch vehicles and related ground infrastructure like launch facilities.
  • Space Applications: To develop space applications to aid national development through establishment of various ground infrastructure and coordination mechanisms.

The DOS has been executing various space activities like launch of satellites and launch vehicles through Indian Space Research Organisation and its R&D centres located across the country.

Why there is a need for a Space Act in India?

First, those nations engaged in space activities such as the USA, Russia, Ukraine, Republic of Korea, South Africa, United Kingdom, Indonesia, Austria, etc. have come up with their own domestic space legislations. Other nations like China and Japan are in the process of formulating their own domestic Space Act.

Second, until recently, ISRO was the sole player in the space sector. So there was no need for a separate legislation governing the space activities. But now the scenario has changed with the entry of many Indian and foreign companies. In India, around 20-odd startups have started to function in this sector. So it is now important to come up with a regulatory mechanism and legislation to govern their activities.

Third, with the rapid growth in demand for space systems, it would be prudent to involve Indian industry and service providers in space activities under the technical guidance and authorization of DOS. Hence, it becomes necessary to provide appropriate legal environment for performance and growth of Indian space sector.

The global space researcher Euroconsult, in its July 2017 report has estimated that globally over 6200 small satellites are likely to be launched by 2026. Around 70% of these satellites are likely to be built from the commercial operators.

Fourth, India is a party to various treaties of UN on outer space activities. Hence, India’s space activities should be in accordance with the obligations of UN Treaties on Outer Space activities. Indian constitution, through Articles 51 and 253, also calls for the implementation of international treaty obligations.

So far, ISRO’s activities were governed by:

  • Satellite Communication Policy, 2000,
  • Remote Sensing Data Policy, 2011, and
  • India’s international treaty obligations on outer space activities as mandated by the UN Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS).

What are the salient features of the Bill?

  • The provisions of the Bill are applicable to all Indian citizens and to those sectors which are engaged in space activity either inside or outside the country.
  • It provides for the grant of non-transferable licence to those people engaged in commercial space activity
  • It provides for the appropriate mechanisms for licensing, eligibility criteria, and fees for licence.
  • It will provide for the maintenance of a register for all space objects by the union government. Space objects here are those objects launched or likely to be launched around the earth.
  • The new Bill provide for professional and technical support for carrying out commercial space activity.
  • The new Bill provides for the regulation of procedures for conduct and operation of space activity
  • The provisions in the Bill will ensure safety requirements and supervise every space activity in India.
  • The Bill contains provisions for the investigation of accidents in connection with the operation of a space activity.
  • The Bill has provisions for sharing of details about the pricing of products created by space activity & technology with any person/agency in a prescribed manner.
  • The new Bill has provisions for punishing those persons who indulge in commercial space activities with imprisonment of up to 3 years or fine of more than ₹1 crore or both.

Positive Aspects of the Bill

First, the new Bill clearly defines space players, licences, violations, objects, people and geography. It is also proposed to define detailed specific guidelines in consultation with stakeholders and industry bodies.

Second, the new Bill gives confidence to the non-governmental players to take risk and invest in space activities in India. This would make India as a commercial hub for space activities and generate jobs in the country.

Criticisms of the Bill

First, experts have criticized the new Bill as it lacks clarity on use of space objects.

Second, the draft Bill gives arbitrary power to the government to monitor research activities. It also lacks clarity on a regulator for penal provisions. This needs scrutiny as it could scare away international investors. Since space sector requires high investments some of these provisions need a detailed scrutiny.

Third, the draft Bill has kept the government out of any liability arising out of harm caused by the commercial activities by the non-governmental players in space.

Current Status

The draft bill has been on the website of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for public comments. After receiving comments from the stakeholders and public, the Bill would go to Parliament for approval.

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