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Space Law Ladder In India

Dr. Malay Adhikari

25 Jul 2022

India’s approach towards the development of space law

Space law means law of outer space. But it is not like that the law is only concerned with regulation of activities occurred in outer space, rather use of space technology on earth i.e., within society. In this sense, the countries that are superpowers in space like USA and the USSR (now Russia) have started innovation of space technology and its application in the international and national activities of their countries. The United Nations (UN) started making space law and it is called international space law. There are five treaties under the regime of the international space law.

At the outset, India is nowhere. The political and societal situation of India was totally different compared to the countries that are superpowers in space. Therefore, in this current analysis, how India has approached towards the development of space law is the prime focus.

Though the origin of space law relates with use of inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), the origin of space law in India is totally different. Vikram Sarabhai has commenced the national space program. The self-reliant and societal use of space technology was in his mind. The post-Sarabhai regime follows this direction especially the ISRO has focused on this.

The main disadvantage of this system is that the Government is the sole investor and sole buyer in domestic market. Unlike other countries, there are no space industry players in India. Therefore, market has not created. The ISRO is the only stakeholder of the national space program. When Sarabhai thought of space technology and its development in India, there may be question to be asked whether he thought of creating domestic market? Indirectly no; His vision was self-reliant space program because India depends on foreign countries to apply their space technology- satellite broadcasting, in India. The scenario has changed gradually. The requirement of society during Sarabhai and current need is totally different. One example is creating jobs with the commercialization of space technology and building up the markets for non-state actors.

There is other aspect to look after i.e. institutionalization. Law making always relates with some organization that allows, supports & promotes the process of making law though the Parliament at the end has last say. It is also changing with the passage of time. The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), Indian Committee on Space Research (InCOSPAR), Department of Space (DoS), Space Commission (SC) and this list is always updated with time. There are specific reasons why a particular organization leads the national space program at a particular point of time.

The first organization is Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) because of Bhaba. Being an excellent scientist, administrator and above all very close to the then Prime Minister Nehru, he individually pioneered the national space program. The next torchbearer is InCOSPAR within DAE. It is basically an Indian local body of the international body, Committee on Space Research (COSPAR). COSPAR has purely scientific purpose- to spread space science research throughout the globe. So InCOSPAR has no reason to consider legal issues as the principal agenda of their activities. After the demise of Bhaba, Sarabhai took the charge of space program. But this regime was not individual centric like his predecessor regime. There were other people.

The then requirement made establishment of an independent department, the Department of Space like other Government departments. Under DoS, there is Space Commission high powered policy decision making body on space activities. The linkage between Space Commission & ISRO is that the Chairman ISRO is the Chairman of Space Commission. And the Chairman of ISRO is the secretary of DoS. Otherwise ISRO has no official capacity to frame policy on space. The people in the SC are also very interesting. At the beginning, there are not so many members whereas post-Chandrayan, the foreign Secretary is also a member because space being a strategic sector playing a vital role in modern foreign policy of India. Not only that the past Chairmen of ISRO are members of SC.

The other very significant point to be addressed here is that space portfolio is administered by none other than the Prime Minister of India. There is one Minister of State but it is the PM who has legal authority to take some policy decision individually. In this sense, who are the PMs in past years definitely matters a lot. Therefore political mandate followed by the final confirmation from the PM is utmost required to make policy and law in concern with space activities.

After considering all these analyses, if someone would like to ride ladder of space law, the first step is during 2000-2001, there are two policies under DoS- the Remote Sensing Data Policy (RSDP) 2001 and the Satellite Telecommunication Policy (SATCOM). The question may be raised why the policies are made on these two sectors. The first reason is commercialization followed by involvement of private actors in the sector of remote sensing. Example- Indian Remote Sensing satellites data to be accessed by customers of these data. The customers may be national or international. Policy for dissemination and accessing remote sensing data is required because the legal issues concerned with quality and cost of data. Similarly, satellite communication follows legal issues that require policy. These two policies are basically soft space law regime in India. The RSDP policy again updated in 2011 to provide better clarity of dissemination of high-resolution data.

The updating of SATCOM policy is also in process. The Draft Space Based Communication Policy in India-2020 (Spacecom Policy 2020) has been published under DoS. There is spectrum scam. A particular satellite bandwidth in a spectrum could provide more spin-offs than other band. Therefore, all end users are interested to get the tender of that particular band from auctioneers (now it is Government of India). It requires policy for bidding of particular band otherwise there are legal hurdles.

Besides the above two sectors in the first step of ladder in space law, the current need is more comprehensive space law. Therefore, the DoS again published a draft of Space Activities Bill in 2017. India has achieved the benchmark of excellent launching that attracts many private actors from foreign lands even the foreign Government used the Indian launch facility. The draft consists of the legal regulation of launching followed by authorization process. So, the second step of ladder is draft of Space Activities Bill 2017.

At the outset, there are some hidden steps of the ladder. These steps make the existing steps stronger and will show the directions to make future steps in ladder. The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill 2016 is still pending. But there are some policies making bodies (within India) related with space outside Government. They have project work to frame policy on Geospatial data that relates with satellite data. Sometimes there are conferences, symposiums hosted by significant stakeholders in space industry. All these definitely have impact on making hard core space law regime in India. At the end, the stakeholders from different fields related with space activities will provide support to build up the upcoming steps of space ladder in India.

Author Dr. Malay Adhikari is at present, Assistant Professor, Amity Law School, Kolkata. He did his doctorate from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi on Space Law and has authored a book on “Legal Regulation of Private Actors in Outer Space: India’s Role” with Routledge.

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