India has been eyeing the global space market since the late sixties and today it stands very well in the competition. With a recent feat of launching 20 satellites, it has made its mark amongst competitors like USA, Russia, China and some other private organization namely SpaceX and Arianespace. The frivolous growth is solely a product of international cooperation and a versatile space policy. As evident, space policies will drive India’s future but what dives the space policies, is the million-dollar question.
As of now, India lacks a unified space policy and so are its spacefaring ventures. The current structure of administration comprises of the Department of Space followed by ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) and aid from Antrix Corporation Ltd., the commercial arm of India’s space ventures.
The current Indian space policy, as already mentioned, lacks an overall component and only covers specific topics such as remote sensing, satellite communication, etc. A low-intensity debate has been taking place in India as to whether India should have a declared space policy or not. The general consensus appears to be that there is no need. But there are several arguments to make in favor of outlining a policy in the open. In today’s world, the advantages of a declared policy far outweigh the disadvantages. A declared policy calls for a clear understanding of how it should be tailored, what it should contain and what should be left out.[i]
Present space policy
The present space policy comprises categorically of two areas- Remote Sensing and Satellite Communication. The Remote Sensing Data Policy (RSDP) came out in 2001 and the Satellite Communication (SatCom) came out in 1997. Both the policies focus on specific areas of space technology. The RSDP was revised in 2011 to make it in consonance with the modern advancements in technology. At a time when use of satellite images for all sort of purposes has grown dramatically, the new policy tries, as the earlier one did, to balance the demand for higher resolution data with the country’s security considerations. But these days, high resolution images of Indian cities are freely accessible through Internet resources such as Google Maps and Google Earth.[ii] On the whole, the policy governs satellite data collected and its dissemination. Remote sensing is used in various fields and aids in infrastructural development too.
The basic role which it plays is of allowing the unrestricted use of data collected. The predicament of any law lies in its existing policy. Herein, the RSDP remains as a policy until now and isn’t a law. The contrasting effect is that any violation of this policy won’t lead to any adjudication by the court. When the government decided to distribute data acquired by Indian satellites, RSDP was made. It guided the government as well as the data provider the purpose of Indian satellite data for its distribution. The national security is the first and foremost issue when the government provides data to anybody through its nodal agency, National Remote Sensing Centre. Besides national security, the government made policy for societal needs and developmental issues. [iii]The new policy will simplify access to data from the existing Indian remote sensing satellites. But Indian companies could find access to the higher resolution data from American satellites problematic unless they were working on a government-sponsored project. The requirement for images with a resolution of less than a meter was “definitely picking up” because of its usefulness for urban planning and infrastructure mapping. It also paves way for National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) to disseminate data collected by Indian and foreign satellites after entering into appropriate agreements with concerned authorities, in behalf of ISRO.
The other policy which is less elaborated is Satellite Communication. This policy runs down the line to ensure communication of Indian satellites with other satellites. The fundamental aim of the Policy Frame-work for Satellite Communications in India approved by the Cabinet is to develop a healthy and thriving communications satellite and ground equipment industry as well as satellite communications service industry in India. Also, use and further development of the capabilities built in India in the area of satellites, launch vehicles and ground equipment design and sustaining these capabilities is an equally important aim.[iv] Making available the infrastructure built through INSAT to a larger segment of the economy and population is another corner stone of the Policy. Encouraging the private sector investment in the space industry in India and attracting foreign investments in this area are other specific goals.
Both the policies work hand in hand to ensure better implementation and governance of the provisions of space policy. The current policy framework also covers the commercial side of the space faring and makes it even more versatile.
Drawbacks of current policy
- Technical Drawbacks
The current policies are technically sound and do not lack in any component categorically. But as new advancements are being observed, the policy framework finds it difficult to keep up with it. For the first policy, RSDP, the revision was done in 2011 which allowed independent use of data collected by the satellites. It also lifted restrictions from public use of data such as imagery, maps, etc. But what is interesting to note is that even before the policy was revised, other free-to-use tools such as Google Earth and Bing Maps among others were available for the public at large. The imagery and maps provided by these vendors were far more clear and apt. Thus, the RSDP revision must have focused on lifting restriction on usage of data provided by better vendors, say Space agencies from other countries.
The second policy on the other hand stands perfectly on satellite communication. It rolls out a number of provisions for better cooperative network of satellites and a procedure for satellite communication.
- Natural drawbacks
Policies are methods to set out a disciplined procedure, but are hardly bound by adjudication. The same applies to India’s space policy. As already mentioned, India does not have a unified space policy rather consists of two policies in specific areas. Also, none of these policies consist a legal framework for adjudication which means that in case of any violation, no adjudication is possible. Since, by nature it is a policy and not a law, thus it shields itself from being questioned on ground of constitutional validity or any other test put forth. These policies can definitely prove to be a tool in law making, but that dream is far from being true.
Areas of work and proposed policies
The areas coming under India’s space policy are sufficient to drive its project for some years now, but with major opportunities knocking doors, what we require is expansion of our policies in various fields and have a unified space policy which shall be duly turned into a law, more specifically space law.
Proposed areas of work are majorly two- Military space policy and drone laws.
Most of the developed and space faring nations have a separate Military space policy which governs space activity and artificial intelligence. It is worthy to point out that DRDO (Defense Research and Development Organization) has worked in regular conformity to provide policy framework, yet the military is completely dependent on foreign inputs when it comes to imagery, mapping and other topographical requirements. This makes its information completely vulnerable and less accurate.
Second policy that needs attention is Drone space laws. In the modern times, UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) are taking over the space. Drones, as they are fondly called, have already arrived India and it is still slow in framing laws for the same. Although, Drone laws can be framed by Aviation authorities, yet it is recommended that the Department of Space shall frame it. This is because Drones can fly on higher altitudes and thus, their administration would be best done by space agencies. Countries like UK, USA and others have already framed Drone laws which govern them.
India, after the advent of ISRO and DRDO, has been striving forward in the spacefaring market without fail. But with other nations shouldering in, India needs a complete overhaul of its space policy and convert it into unified space law. Drones and other means of traversing challenge the current policy and it is evident that they need to be revised. Moreover, the current space policy acts as a catalyst but fails to be versatile, unlike space policies of other countries like USA, Israel, Russia or China. All these countries have separate space laws and distinguished policies which governs their skies better than ours.
Author: Amartya Shrivastava
He is pursuing his BA.,LL.B. (Hons.) from University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun.
You can reach author at: firstname.lastname@example.org
[i]Should India Declare a Space Policy? by Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan published on August 31, 2013 at URL: http://thediplomat.com/2013/08/should-india-declare-a-space-policy/ (last accessed at 18-July-2016)
[ii] New remote sensing data policy eases restrictions by N. Gopal Raj published on July 6,2011 at URL: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/new-remote-sensing-data-policy-eases-restrictions/article2161892.ece (last accessed at 18-Jul-16)
[iii]Remote Sensing: An Analysis of Policy and Law with Reference to Indiaby Malay Adhikari, Ph.D. Research Scholar, Centre for International Legal Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi published on February 9, 2012 at URL: http://indiageospatialforum.org/2012/proceedings/ppt/Malay%20Adhikari.pdf (last accessed at 18-july-2016)
[iv] A policy framework for satellite communication in India published at URL: http://dos.gov.in/sites/default/files/satcom-policy.pdf (last accessed at 18-july-2016)