[Burning Issue] Space Activities Bill

News

  • India has begun pre legislative consultations on a “Space Activities Bill” that is designed to encourage domestic private rocket and satellite companies to offer services for Indian and global customers.

About the Space Activities Bill, 2017

  • The Bill will address the liability issues arising from their space activities, in a suitable/ rational manner, in line with international practices.
  • The government first introduced the Bill in 2017.

Objective

  • To promote and regulate the space activities of India by encouraging the participation of non-governmental/private sector agencies under the guidance and authorisation of the government through the Department of Space.

Why is there a need for a space law?

  • Currently, space activities are regulated by policies like Satellite communication policy, 2000 and Remote Sensing Data Policy, 2011. But there is a need for the proper legal environment for orderly performance and growth of the space sector.
  • Nations such as the USA, Russia, UK, etc. have their own space legislation. Even China and Japan are in the process of formulating their own domestic space legislation.
  • Earlier, ISRO was the sole player in the space sector. However lately, there have been many start-ups mushrooming in this sector, which calls for a regulatory mechanism and legislation to govern their activities.
  • Furthermore, the demand for Indian space products has been growing both in the country and outside the country. So it is necessary to include Indian industry and service providers in space activities under the technical guidance of the Department of Space (DOS) and the growth of the Indian space sector.
  • A legislation is required as India is obligated to UN outer space treaties which require signatories to have a national legislation in place.
  • There is a need for national space legislation for supporting the overall growth of the space activities in India. This would encourage enhanced participation of non-governmental/private sector agencies in space activities in India, in compliance with international treaty obligations, which is becoming very relevant today.

Legal Provisions

  • Internationally, the outer space activities are governed by treaties and principles evolved under UN Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS).
    • The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) was set up by the UN General Assembly in 1959 to govern the exploration and use of space for the benefit of all humanity: for peace, security and development.
  • India is also a party to the Outer Space Treaty, 1967.
  • Constitution of India provides for implementation of international treaty obligations, vide Articles 51 and 253.
  • The “space” as a subject is not mentioned in the Union List. However, Parliament retains residuary legislative power in respect of “any matter not enumerated” in any of the three lists.
  • Currently, space activities are regulated by policies like Satellite Communication Policy, 2000 and Remote Sensing Data Policy, 2011.

Background

  • The lack of independent private participation in space is because of absence of a framework to provide transparency, timelines on licensing, issuance of authorisation and continuous supervision mechanism (in accordance with the Outer Space Treaty), among others.
  • These issues need to be addressed today to provide a stronger thrust for ‘Make in India’ as well as FDI in space.

Key propositions of the Bill

  • The provisions of this Act shall apply to every citizen of India and to all sectors engaged in any space activity in India or outside India
  • A non-transferable licence shall be provided by the Central Government to any person carrying out commercial space activity
  • The Central Government will formulate the appropriate mechanism for licensing, eligibility criteria, and fees for licence.
  • The government will maintain a register of all space objects (any object launched or intended to be launched around the earth) and develop more space activity plans for the country
  • It will provide professional and technical support for commercial space activity and regulate the procedures for conduct and operation of space activity
  • It will ensure safety requirements and supervise the conduct of every space activity of India and investigate any incident or accident in connection with the operation of a space activity.
  • It will share details about the pricing of products created by space activity and technology with any person or any agency in a prescribed manner.
  • If any person undertakes any commercial space activity without authorisation they shall be punished with imprisonment up to 3 years or fined more than ₹1 crore or both.

Arguments favouring the bill

Definition: The bill clearly defines space players, licenses, violations, objects, people, and geography. It is also proposed to define detailed guidelines in consultation with stakeholders and industry bodies.

Promotion: The bill encourages non-governmental players to take the risk and invest in space activities in India. This will make India a commercial hub for space activities and generate jobs in the country.

Arguments against the bill

Clarity: Experts have criticized the bill for its lack of clarity on the use of space objects.

Regulation: It gives arbitrary power to the government for monitoring the research activities. This would scare away international investors from investing in the space sector of India.

Liability: The bill made the government non-liable for any harm caused by the commercial activities by the non-governmental players in space even though the government gives clearance for their involvement in the space activities.

Significance of the bill

  • The current space policy does not cover liability for damage to third party space assets although the country is a signatory to the UN Treaties on Outer Space activity.
  • The Bill will help formulate necessary rules under the Space Activities Act to deal with damages under the liability provisions and the mode of securing financial guarantee to compensate for damages.
  • This bill would address a long-pending concern on covering liabilities in the event of a mishap or damage to spacecraft.

Why reconsider the Bill?

The current space policy does not cover liabilities for damage to third party space assets although the country is a signatory to the UN Treaties on Outer Space activity.

The Bill will help formulate necessary rules under the Space Activities Act to deal with damages under the liability provisions and the mode of securing financial guarantee to compensate for damages.

This bill would address a long-pending concern on covering liabilities in the event of a mishap or damage to spacecraft.

For tapping global opportunities

India’s PSLV has emerged as the preferred rocket to hurl small satellites globally.

India is also working on a small satellite launch vehicle that is designed to tap the global opportunity to carry satellites of less than 50 kg into space.

The US, France and the EU have legislations that underwrite costs of damage if it exceeds insurance when a private satellite launch goes awry or a rocket hits another object in space.

Way forward

The bill is a welcome step in promoting the space sector. But to enable competitive ecosystem in the space sector there is a need to conduct a review of international best practices in managing the space value chain and inducting them within the Act.

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