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Legal and policy challenges in space technology


                                                           (Photo: Outlook India)

History is agreed upon as an uninterrupted process in time and space.”

India before independence was very different from the India that we see today. Of course, it is common knowledge that pre 1947 India consisted of modern day, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The after-independence chase of India faced major developments and changes that we can see today. India has an impressive array of achievements in the development of space transport as well as aviation industry for various applications. From a humble beginning with a small RH 75 rocket in the sixties to the successful launch of PSLV-D2 with 804 kg IRS-P2 in October, 1994, the Indian space programme has made remarkable progress through a well-integrated, self-reliant programme. On the other hand, the civil aviation industry of India has emerged as one of the fastest growing industries in the country during the last three years. India has become the third largest domestic aviation market in the world and is expected to overtake UK to become the third largest air passenger market by 2024.

Every country’s success depends upon its government. The way it handles the whole economy largely affect its economic environment. In such a globalized environment, the governmental policies act as the key factor in determining its real success, be it in field of aviation, space technology or any other. The government however has reviewed its aviation policies from time to time and tried to make it friendlier however it lagged in certain jurisprudence. In the recent past, the outlook of the government of India has undergone substantial change. It has tried to adopt emerging trends and include different terminologies, ownership of private companies, more new projects, financing, hassle free management and its operations. The government has increased its investment in this sector. Moreover, it has tried to devise the privatization method to solve many problems attached to this sector. Privatization is needed for solving the problem of “distressed state syndrome”. The complete or partial privatization will give positive impact on efficiency, productivity and profitability. Trends of privatization is rising all around the world and it is important to analyze all consequences and specific results, which will be helpful to understand better difficulties and structural changes.

During the COVID time, there was a dramatic drop in demand for passenger air transport. This threatened the viability of many firms, putting many jobs at stake. While the aviation industry has often been a target of government policies, the COVID-19 crisis has precipitated a new suite of loans, loan guarantees, wage subsidies and equity injections, raising concerns about efficient use of public resources. The COVID-19 crisis has hit hard to the economy.

Although the aviation and space sector contribute a lot to the economy, however every coin has two sides. The other side of the story is that we have grown, but grown at the cost of our mother nature. The question that we need to dwell into is: “Do we belong to this earth or does this earth belong to us”. Commercial aviation is experiencing dramatic growth in various regions throughout the world but at the cost of what. It is leading to the pollution of the environment. Over the past 50 years global demand for air travel has risen by 9 per cent per annum. The environmental impact it has caused is very degrading. This has become a cause of concern.


According to the data released by Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), FDI inflow in India’s air transport sector (including air freight) reached US$ 2.79 billion between April 2000 and June 2020. The government has allowed 100% FDI under the automatic route in scheduled air transport service, regional air transport service and domestic scheduled passenger airline. However, FDI over 49% would require government approval.

India’s aviation industry is expected to witness Rs. 35,000 crore (US$ 4.99 billion) investment in the next four years. The Indian Government is planning to invest US$ 1.83 billion for development of airport infrastructure along with aviation navigation services by 2026.

Key investments and developments in India’s aviation industry includes:

  • In October 2020, Zurich Airport International signed the concession agreement for the development of Jewar Airport on the outskirts of Delhi. The agreement has granted Zurich Airport International the license to design, build and operate Noida International Airport (NIAL) for the next 40 years.
  • In October 2020, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) announced plan to upgrade runways at seven airports across the country by March 2022.
  • In January 2020, IndiGo became first Indian carrier to have an aircraft fleet size of 250 planes and became the first airline to operate 1,500 flights per day.
  • In December 2019, AAI announced its plans to set up India's first three water aerodromes in Andaman & Nicobar.
  • As of December 2019, France-based Safran Group planned an investment of US$ 150 million in a new aircraft engine maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) unit in India to cater to its airline customers.
  • AAI plans to invest Rs. 25,000crore (US$ 3.58 billion) in next the five years to augment facilities and infrastructure at air transport.


What we can sketch out is that there’s a greater need for space legislation. With no legal obligation, the dream of ‘DIGITAL INDIA’ can’t be achieved. A robust legal regime would instill investor confidence, attract FDI and new technologies, reduce administrative and regulatory uncertainties, provide clarity on stamp duty, registration requirements, insurance, transfer of property, contractual obligation, space debris liability and intellectual property rights concerning space-related issues, and flourish space entrepreneurship by providing a level playing field to the private entities. 

The policymakers need to resolve the following issues in virtue of requisite space legislation:

·       Single Independent Regulator – In contradiction to the present multiple ministries, agencies and departments, namely, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Department of Space, the satellite divisions of Department of Telecom, the Department of Telecommunications, the Telecom Engineering Centre, the Network Operation and Control Centre, the Ministry of Defense, and the Ministry of Defense, a single independent regulator is required to perform regulatory processes including the issuance of a place in orbit to launch a satellite and/or rocket, mandatory licenses to launch it, spectrum to communicate with it, and clearance for the technology and/or space equipment to be used. 

·       Space debris – Space debris or space junk encompasses both man-made and natural (meteoroid) particles that enhance the probability of disastrous collision that may cause damage to space vehicles. Although there is no specific international treaty or convention dealing with the imposition of liability, some long-standing guidelines were issued by NASA, on ‘how to deal with space debris’ which were later adopted by the UN General Assembly and COPUOS. However, well-defined provisions on liability of the launching state need to be formulated to reduce the persisting or potential conflicts among countries.

·       Security measures – With the rising threats to national peace and security by potential space and cyber warfare possibilities, countries need to invest adequately in adopting cyber and military security measures. Rules and regulations on lines with the Data protection laws need to be formulated to ensure that adequate cyber security measures are in place.

·       Granting of license - The process for granting a license is yet to be developed, but section 5 of the Bill envisages that there will be eligibility criteria, and a fee to pay, without giving any detail or indication as to what those criteria or fees might be. In particular, it sets out the obligation to provide a financial guarantee or insurance, which essentially addresses the broader liability question and the principles of liability that flow under the international space regime.

·        Intellectual property rights- Section 25 of the Bill states, "Any invention, or other form of intellectual property rights, developed, generated or created during the course of any space activity shall be protected by any law for the time being in force, with the primary objective of safe guarding national security." such a provision might deter the potential participation of the private sector in the Indian space industry and thus needs to be looked into by the policymakers to enable innovation in the space industry.    


“Without your involvement you can't succeed. With your involvement you can't fail.”

Well said by APJ Abdul Kalam. India’s aviation and space transport are largely untapped with huge growth opportunities. It’s the need of the hour to grab these opportunities and the government should deeply involve in this process by making key changes in its policy and legal framework. A single policy should be adopted. In aviation industry, a lot of digital transformation is required. A big vision and strategy are needed to get through stormy waters. Cost pressure should be taken into account. New technology should be adopted. With the increase in competition and entry of private players, only the companies who do best will be able to survive. On the other hand, in space industry, policy changes are needed to make the space sector more accessible to private players. There’s a need of single space legislation. Changes are needed in New Space India Limited (NSIL). Last year, the finance minister announced the opening up of the ISRO’s facilities to the country’s private sector as part of its COVID-19 special economic stimulus. This was an early but a commendable step. Many a thing have changed since COVID.

As it is said, “Every cloud has a silver lining.” We should also hope for the best. It is at these times when the government was able to realize its incapability and failure and hopefully it has started considering legal and policy aspect that needs deeper consideration

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