Thursday, 20 January, 2022
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When it comes to space activities in India, are no laws better than bad laws?

The government had put the draft Space Activities Bill in the public domain, inviting suggestions. The bill was never introduced in this Lok Sabha. 

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Space is an unregulated territory and ISRO, a government entity, has been the dominant player so far. The government had put the draft Space Activities Bill in the public domain, inviting suggestions. Many industry stakeholders raised concerns over its provisions. The bill was never introduced in this Lok Sabha. 

ThePrint asks: When it comes to space activities in India, are no laws better than bad laws?

Well-drafted, diligently debated and efficiently executed space act is a must

Prashant Butani
Satellite professional based out of Malaysia

Some say no governance is better than bad governance. But like education, I personally believe that it is better to make a start, fail, learn, correct and improve than do nothing at all.

India deserves access to important services:

– Free basic Internet access across the country and during transit

– 4K broadcast television channels

– Reliable, robust, indigenous alternatives to satellite navigation, which is currently controlled by foreign governments

– High-resolution satellite imagery to enable applications like precision agriculture, disaster management, traffic management.

For this, we must:

– Ensure India is second to none in the application of space and satellite technology.

– Ensure there are adequate laws, policies, norms and guidelines in place that are transparent, easy to access and enable ease of doing business for both private and public entities.

– Lay the groundwork from a technical, economic, legal and regulatory standpoint for startups, SMEs and large enterprises so that they can understand, evaluate and execute projects, which can eventually bring to life the services mentioned.

None of this is possible without a well-drafted, diligently debated and efficiently executed space act. The first step towards this is to read, comment and introduce the Draft Space Activities Bill 2017 in the 17th Lok Sabha. We have already missed one window of opportunity during the tenure of the present government, we must act quickly now.

Much like angel tax, bad governance will definitely do no good

Divyanshu Poddar
Co-founder, Rocketeers

In the debate between bad governance and no governance, no governance holds a higher ground. Having no laws at least allows good players to do something and figure out their own ways to achieve goals beneficial to the industry. Bad governance, on the other hand, would just clamp down on everything and turn out to be counterproductive.

No governance could stimulate healthy discussions and debates that would lead, eventually, to good governance. The market is in a state of limbo due to lack of such dialogue, which could be conducive for bringing in good laws.

I would rather have no education than have bad education.

Historically, I feel there have been cases where no education has been better than bad education. No education is probably better than indoctrination in the name of education, when it comes to religious extremism. In my opinion, ‘no governance’ would operate in a similar fashion.

Much like angel tax, bad governance would definitely do no good. However in the case of no governance, the resultant limbo would, at least, allow good players to have enough elbow room to operate.

Space Activities Bill, in its present form, has provisions detrimental to the sector’s growth

Bhumish Khudkhudia
Public policy professional

The government invited suggestions from the public in 2017 on the draft Space Activities Bill and received 52 responses, which included seeking clarifications and suggestions on scope of space activities, regulatory mechanisms, licensing procedures, etc.

It is noteworthy that the PMO expressed its willingness to introduce the Space Activities Bill in Parliament but the government eventually decided against it, citing the further consultation process undertaken by the Department of Space.

One can safely surmise that space experts and private sector players in India heaved a collective sigh of relief when the bill was not approved by union cabinet for introduction in Parliament. Several provisions of the bill were detrimental to further expansion of the country’s space sector as well as profitability of private sector players. Hence, it was good that the introduction of the Space Activities Bill in Parliament in its present draft form was averted.

Space is a sunrise industry in India given its untapped potential, and will soon eclipse the IT sector. A robust engagement with all the key stakeholders of the space industry is absolutely essential for a comprehensive and balanced legislation on space activities.

Ultimately, the onus is on the Prime Minister to steer the legislation towards a logical end that maximises the interests of all concerned stakeholders.

Legislation, not opaque policies, will help India’s space business to grow

Abhishek Malhotra
Managing Partner, TMT Law Practice

The short answer to the question is overwhelmingly in favour of a bad law.

Absence of law creates a complete vacuum, which, like a blank canvas, is great when the artist painting the picture (in our case the government controlling the policy) is creative, objective and open-minded. In the wrong hands, it can lead to unbridled power with no accountability, which is not good for the industry in the long run. When there IS a law, there is some amount of certainty; there is accountability.

This is not the case with regard to a policy. A policy is flexible but the flexibility is always at the mercy of the decision-making authority. Bad laws can be challenged and improved upon. Ask a lawyer how difficult it is to challenge and strike down a bad policy.

For India’s space business to grow, entrepreneurs need certainty, which can only come through legislation and not opaque policies that are “interpreted” and “implemented” as suited.

A bad law, at the very least, encourages debate, discussion and may ultimately lead to a good law. With no law, we remain bound by and encourage status quo – never good for any business, especially one that needs to be nurtured and projected as a viable option.

Implementing good space laws is a new process for almost every country in the world

Sandhya Ramesh
Senior assistant editor of Science, ThePrint

Any well-regulated industry requires effective laws that can be implemented efficiently. Space sector hardly gets featured in public debates despite being a billion-dollar industry. And, space as a territory is so unchartered that implementing good space laws is still a new process for pretty much every country in the world. Passing laws requires nuanced understanding of how space works.

Lack of any law provides a huge opportunity to the players to run the industry as per their will. This comes in handy for small players to carve out a niche for themselves and become go-to entities. However, an unregulated industry relies on the collective conscience of all players to prevent exploitation of people and resources.

On the other hand, bad laws can lay potentially harmful restrictions on a budding industry. That said, a bad law can be considered the start of a process, which over a period of time can lead to a better law through debates and discussions.

Whether someone prefers no laws or bad laws eventually comes down to the part they play in the industry. Some may find it easier to subvert and deal with bad laws, especially when they are established businesses. Small businesses would rather have no restrictions and would like to carve out their own path.

By Sandhya Ramesh, senior assistant editor at ThePrint.

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