Centre to introduce Commercial Space Activities Bill in Budget session

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Business Standard, December 31, 2018

The Space Activities Bill will facilitate participation of non-governmental stakeholders in space activities

The Centre is likely to introduce a Bill to commercialise space activities in the budget session next year.

The government, responding to a question raised by Poonam Mahajan, said the Space Activities Bill 2017 aims to “facilitate the overall growth of space activities in India with higher order participation of public, non-governmental and private sector stakeholders.”

It will help the Centre establish a regulatory mechanism through an appropriate body to authorise and license space activities.

“The provision on liability for damages caused by space activities of licensee provides for a risk sharing mechanism, by which the Central Government may determine the quantum of liability to be borne by the licensee,” the response said.

The draft Bill received 52 responses, the government said, adding that 15 of these were from the general public. Stakeholders from the Indian aerospace industry and related start-ups sent four responses while law firms and lawyers sent another four. The government also received responses from space law experts and scholars (nine), satcom companies (four), industry fora (seven) and scientists (nine).

Most of the responses sought clarifications, while some had suggestions on provisions such as scope of space activities, regulatory mechanism, licensing and authorisation procedures, sharing liability burden with a limit on damage costs and penal provisions.

Speaking to Hindustan Times, Rajeswari Rajagopalan, who heads the nuclear and space policy initiatives at the Observer Research Foundation, said allowing commercial use will increase India’s domestic capacity for launches. “[The Indian Space Research Organisation] is already hard pressed given the growing demand for communication, disaster management and several other national priority areas,” she said.

Rajagopalan added that India remains competitive in the international market as a low-cost, reliable launcher – but will need to increase its launch capacity to keep up with demand.

While the draft Bill says the government will act as a gatekeeper, she also said it should create and maintain a level playing field. “The best example is NASA: its importance has not diminished just because there is a SpaceX,” she said, referring to Elon Musk’s commercial space exploration venture.

Problems with the Bill

The Wire had reported that the Bill does not address space-based activities separately. Instead, it tries to cover large swaths of the space value chain in one go. In fact, the very definition of “space activity” could throw up complications. The definition puts every space object under its ambit, meaning even hardware that carries GPS receivers could require a license.

The Bill could also affect navigation services provided by companies such as Google Maps, Ola and Uber.

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