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A Lacuna Of Space Laws In India And The Global Scenario

The cradle of any civilized society is its laws. Laws have evolved alongside technological advancements. In today's world, space has become a buzzword. Numerous organizations are vying for a presence in space, both public and private. In such a scenario, space must be regulated, not only internationally but also domestically, to ensure that all activities that occur there are regulated. International law exists, but it is insufficient.

When it comes to space, India lacks a solid legal framework. Policies alone will not suffice; a comprehensive legal framework is required. Legislation must be cautious, and it must be well prepared to deal with situations that will arise as a result of the changing paradigm of space use. The rate at which developments are occurring is increasing and will continue to accelerate in the future. The legal developments have been excruciatingly slow to catch up, with the Draft Space Activities Bill under consideration since 2017.

The absence of legislation can cause a slew of issues. As the private sector's involvement grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to defend national interests. Therefore, it would be advantageous to establish legal frameworks as soon as possible so that law can begin to evolve.

History Of Space Laws

The concept of space law had been mentioned in journals and academic writings in the early 20th century which became well known coming to the middle 20th century. Before 1957 discussions were going on as to what should be the sovereign limits of countries to the space above them, but no tangible developments occurred. The pedestal for the space laws was set up and not the space laws. The status quo underwent a shift after the launch of the satellites by the USSR (1957) and the US (1958).

After these developments both the superpowers were interested in making clear space laws. The year 1959 saw the creation of a permanent outer space committee to maintain the UN charter and international law. In 1963, it came up with a resolution that banned nuclear tests in outer space and the UNGA passed a declaration fixing responsibility for international law transgressions.

Thereafter, The Outer Space Treaty 1967 was signed by 63 UN participant nations to safeguard all the astronauts in difficult circumstances. Also, in 1998, the ISS agreement was signed between Canada, Japan, Russian Federation, and the United States for civil cooperation on the international space station.

International Scenario

  • United Nations

    The UN started taking active steps for the maintenance of the peaceful use of outer space from the year 1957. Resolutions for prohibiting the use of space for military purposes and weapons of mass destruction were also considered. The UN has five main treaties:
    1. The Outer space treaty
    2. The rescue agreement
    3. The liability convention
    4. The registration convention
    5. The moon agreement
  • Committee On Peaceful Use Of Outer Space (Copous)

    It was set up by UNGA in 1959. It is the sole committee dealing exclusively with matters related to the peaceful uses of outer space. The mandate of the committee is to strengthen the international framework of space law. The committee is also tasked with helping nations and the UN bodies to effectively use space technology.
  • United Nations Office For Outer Space Affairs(UNOOSA)

    This office was made to ensure international cooperation on space achievement of sustainable technological and economic goals. It also helps developing countries to use space technology to ensure that they can integrate space capabilities into national development programs.
    1. The office assists members in making a regulatory framework.
    2. The office also maintains a registry of the objects launched in space.
    3. The office Fosters solutions to international risks like space debris.
    4. The office is important in the problems of international stature like near-earth object impact and the development of Global navigational satellite systems.
  • United States

    The beginning of space law in the US was with the passage of the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act (NASA Act). The act created the National Aeronautics and space administration. NASA was the start of the civilian space program of the United States. The United States has numerous space laws clubbed under title 51 of the United States Code namely:
    1. Commercial space launch act
    2. Land remote sensing policy act
    3. Commercial space act
    4. National Aeronautics and space and administration Authorisation act, 2005
    5. National Aeronautics and space and administration Authorisation act, 2008
    6. National Aeronautics and space and administration Authorisation act, 2010
    7. Spurring private aerospace competitiveness and entrepreneurship (SPACE) act
    8. NASA Transition authorization act
    9. National Defense authorization act
  • United Kingdom

    The UK has signed 4 out of the 5 core space treaties. It has not signed the moon treaty. Questions may be asked as to why, the United Kingdom, a nation that can be considered a failure comparatively for its space program is being discussed here, it is because even though the United Kingdom has a weak space program it has a robust system of laws. Before the Space industry act, 2018 was introduced space activities in the United Kingdom were governed mainly by the Outer Space act, 1986.
  • Outer Space Act

    This act came into force in 1989. It empowered the Secretary of the state to issue licenses for the applicant launching and other space activities which have a relation with the UK[i]. If an individual or organization wants to conduct any space-related activity it has to apply for a license[ii]. The applicant has to take a minimum of Euro 100 million insurance for launching also the launch operator is also obliged to compensate the UK government in case of any. The outer space act also fixes responsibility and liability for space activities. There is also a provision for registration of the objects launched into space from the UK mentioned in the act with the procedure of registering the object with the secretary of state[iii].
  • Space Industry Act, 2018

    This act was mainly to create a framework for commercial launches to take place from 2020 onwards. This legislation provided a framework for commercial spaceflight operations. Features of the Space industry act:
    1. Provisions on insurance [iv]
    2. Indemnification requirement for the operators [v]
    3. Limit of operator liability [vi]
    4. The orbital operations will follow the limit set out in the previous act.

  • Indian Scenario

    India, one of the best-performing nations in terms of space, is critically lacking a legal framework around the activities undertaken in space; the existing framework to is made up of policies and not law. Following are some policies on the subject:
    • Satellite Communications Policy (Satcom), 2000

      The policy broadly falls under three categories:
      1. Use of INSAT capabilities by the private sector: INSAT capabilities were allocated to the department of telecommunication, Doordarshan, and all India radio through a committee (ICC). It was the work of the ICC to designate a certain INSAT capacity for the private sector.
      2. Operation and establishment of Indian satellite systems: The companies registered in India with less than 74% foreign investment were allowed to establish and operate satellite systems. The orbit-spectrum requirements of private Indian companies would be represented by the wireless Planning and Coordination (WPC) wing of the ministry of communications in the international forums.
      3. Use of satellites from foreign nations for Satcom services: The use of foreign satellites is only allowed in special cases until India is not ready to provide the services.

    • Remote Sensing Data Policy, 2011

      The policy majorly made permission/license necessary from the government. It made the government the sole and exclusive owner of all data collected/received from the Indian Regional Satellite (IRS) program. The licensees are given only the right to use the data and add value to the satellite data. The government is given the sole right to regulate imaging tasks and regulations on the issues of national security or international law. It is upon the government to decide who will acquire/ distribute satellite remote sensing data. The Department of Space was given the right to decide the process of granting of a license for the dissemination of the data and for the levy of the necessary fees.

Draft Space-Related Policies

  1. Spacecom Policy,2020
  2. SpaceRS Policy,2020
  3. SpaceRS NGP, 2020

Policies And Not Law
The policy is a plan of action i.e. if the government brings out any policy that means it makes clear its plan of action. Law on the other hand is a set of rules which are duly passed by the parliament. Policies are just pieces of document while the law is a binding force, one can take the government into court if the government or any person violates the law. Hence laws are more authoritative. India has no space law at present although a bill has been under consideration since 2017.

Draft Space Activities Bill, 2017

A legal framework on Space was always required not only because the private sector is coming up but because the private sector is needed, as it fosters greater development and innovation, the development cannot be sustained if there are no legal safeguards. Therefore, the said bill was drafted back in 2017 and is still pending before the parliament.

It is a bill proposed to facilitate and regulate India's space activities. It encourages private sector organizations to participate in space activities in India under the guidance and authorization of the government of India's Department of Space.

Some Features Of The Draft Bill Are As Follows:
  • Application- It will apply to every citizen of the country.
  • Licensing- The central government would provide a non-transferable license.
  • Registration- A register of all the space objects will be maintained by the government.
  • Support- The government will provide technical and professional support for commercial space activities.
  • Safety- ensuring safety requirements and supervision of the conduct of every space activity
  • Investigation- the bill also ensures that investigation of every accident occurring in connection with any space activity.
  • Detail sharing- Sharing details about the pricing of the products created by space activity and technology with agencies and persons.
  • Punishment- Doing the following activities may entail a punishment with jail for up to 3 years or a fine of more than INR one crore or both:
    • unauthorized space activity
    • furnishing false information or documents
    • causing environmental damage
    • entry into prohibited areas
    • disclosure of restricted information
  • IPR protection- The Law contains provisions for the protection of intellectual property rights created through space activity.

The bill has a lot of positive aspects, but it falls short in some crucial areas. Although the purpose of the legislation is to support and encourage private commercial space activities, it appears to accomplish little in this regard due to certain reasons like its harsh penal provisions.

The government exercises a great deal of control over private enterprises which is not favorable for them. Along with this, there is a lot of talk about private sector regulation but very little about government transparency; both of these factors, when combined, will be a major deterrent to private sector development in the space industry.

Way Forward
The government must understand that transparency regulation and control should not be excessive especially when there is low transparency. A very stringent regime of controls would only enervate the private sector. Hence, corrective measures in this aspect are required.

Eventually, as technology advances, new fields will be discovered, necessitating the need to regulate and control them. One such field in the modern world is space. The study of different nations' legal frameworks has revealed that the need of the hour is a comprehensive framework that defines space laws.

Even though their space program lags far behind India's, some countries are far ahead of India in terms of their legal framework for space-related activities. Therefore, for the space industry to flourish and grow exponentially, the need of the hour is to have a comprehensive and well-thought-out law that not only meets the needs of the present but also has the potential to lead to greater development in the future.

  1. Outer space act 1986, s 3.
  2. Outer space act 1986, s 3.
  3. Outer space act 1986, s 7.
  4. Space Industry Act 2018, s 38.
  5. Space Industry Act 2018, s 34, 36.
  6. Space Industry Act 2018, s 12(2).

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