India is finally getting a dedicated bill dealing with space activities.
A draft of a legislation named the Space Activities Bill, 2017, has been introduced that aims to “promote and regulate space activities in India.”
India currently doesn’t have any legislation for space despite having successfully made inroads into the space sector in past decades.
The lack of a regulatory framework has particularly come into spotlight with the growing interest of private sector in the industry, and with several space start-ups getting launched in Bengaluru.
Private Sector Participation On the Rise
The need for such a legislation has been felt for a long time with India making made rapid progress in space sector over the years. The private sector is likely to get involved in core activities like building satellites or launching them as the sector expands and there is greater utilization of space related technologies
In this situation, a complete regulatory framework is essential.
The current draft developed by Department of Space (DoS) permits private players to produce and launch satellites and also participate in space related activities So far private companies have only operated as suppliers of fuel, various components and parts to Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
Sweeping Powers to Department of Space
Under the provisions of the bill, the entry of private entities into the space sector will be regulated and the Union government will have all powers related to licensing of private parties to launch or operate “space objects”.
The DoS will have sweeping powers that goes beyond licensing to include authority to inspect books of account, access information related to partners or directors among other things.
The powers extend to not just space objects but also to all related activities. This a cause for worry since it can imply that even data companies that work on satellite imagery or universities having ground facilities for micro satellites may need a license.
Conflict of Interest Not Addressed
Another worrisome aspect is that the DoS will act as a regulator as well, which indicates a conflict of interest. The DoS via ISRO is a service provider and via Antrix is is a commercial operator.
Currently one person is heads all three agencies- Space Commission chairman, ISRO chairman and DoS secretary. Under the bill, the same individual will become the regulator.
The current form of the bill may not be welcomed by private players. However several critical details like the amount of license fee or procedures for book inspections are still awaited.