An Overview to India’s first Space Law draft: Space Activities Bill, 2017

India’s first Space Law, Draft Space Activities Bill, 2017, has been unveiled last year. 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. It is a proposed Bill to promote and regulate the space activities of India. The new Bill encourages the participation of non-governmental/private sector agencies in space activities in India under the guidance and authorisation of the government through the Department of Space.

According to the draft, as few start-up companies in India have shown interest in space systems activities and as space activities need participation from private sector agencies, “there is an urgent need for a legal environment for orderly performance and growth of space sector.”

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

  • India hitherto was not in the list of the nations having their own space law. 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. Thus India felt the need of having its own space law.
  • Also till now ISRO was the sole player in the space sector, which used to regulate and manage this sector. So the need for a separate legislation governing the space activities was not felt. 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 space activities.
  • India is a party to various UN treaties 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 fostering respect and the implementation of international treaty obligations.
  • Hitherto, 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).

 

Salient features 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 government will maintain a register of all space objects, meaning thereby (any object launched or intended to be launched around the earth) and develop more space activity plans for the country.
  • The Central Government will formulate the appropriate mechanism for licencing, eligibility criteria, and fees for licence.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • As far as liability is concerned then a licensee should compensate the central government against claims brought against the government. This would be regarding damages arising out of commercial space activities covered under the license.
  • The draft Bill provides for penalties in case of unauthorised commercial space activity furnishing false information or documents causing environmental damage entry into prohibited areas disclosure of restricted information
  • Protection of action taken by the central government i.e. no legal proceedings can lie against the central government with respect to anything done in good faith in pursuance of space activity.
  • Intellectual property rights developed during the course of space activity will be protected under the law. Further, any intellectual property right developed onboard a space object in outer space will be deemed to be the property of the central government.

Conclusion

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. Also, the Bill gives confidence to the private 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.

However 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 control and monitor research activities. Aldo there is ambiguity 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 private players in space. In the nutshell the Act needs to consider breaking down the activities within the space and space-based ground activities to frame clear laws for the conduct of business, international obligations, national security concerns, protection of IP.

Author:  Apoorva Priyadarshini, Student Editor- Legal Desire