‘Need clarity on FDI, other issues in remote sensing policy’s draft’

Chennai (IANS)┬áIndia’s Space-Based Remote Sensing Policy of India-2020 under preparation should specify the percentage of foreign direct investment (FDI) to set up and operate ground stations by a foreign partner interested to invest, said an industry official.

He also said that if an established network provider wants to set up a station in India, how will the policy allow the operations of the ground station?

“Are there specific policies on having local Indian partners and will there be policy on ownership of an Indian subsidiary if an FDI route was chosen?” Narayan Prasad, Chief Operating Officer, Satsearch, told IANS.

The Netherlands-headquartered Satsearch is a European Space Agency (ESA)-backed start-up building the global marketplace for space.

The Department of Space (DOS) recently came out with its draft on the policy and called for comments and suggestions by December 11, 2020.

For a nation, earth observation or remote-sensing satellites are eyes in the skies that take ground pictures for various applications, including national security.

“Even if commercial operators are allowed to operate a ground station, how will the licensing process function?” he asked.

Prasad said that there are some questions that the draft policy needs to address further.

“It says it may restrict certain operations or data due to sensitivity. That makes sense, but it is currently difficult to understand what is no-go based on this policy.”

As per the draft policy, owing to national security considerations, a category of data will be identified as ‘sensitive’ and a different mechanism for dissemination of such data is envisaged.

“Also, the government shall reserve the right to impose/control on the imaging/observation and its data distribution, when national security and/or international obligations and/or foreign policies of the government so requires. In such cases, the government may restrict operations of the commercial systems and limit collection and/or dissemination of certain data and products,” states the draft policy.

According to the draft, very high resolution data having ground sampling distance less than 50 centimeter will be treated as ‘sensitive’ and requires specific authorisation for dissemination.

“The dissemination of such data will be regulated/controlled by the government of India, as per the consideration of national security and prevailing foreign policy,” the draft policy states.

On this point, Prasad wondered whether it includes any satellite – Indian or foreign – tasking and downloading over Indian territory?

“Is it only optical data the draft refers to? What happens if below-50cm data is required? Will its route be through National Remote Sensing Centre?” he added.

“This 2020 draft needs to specify precise geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) policies concerning national security. The draft should explain how India will enforce ‘shutter control’ over sensitive areas and geographies. In its current form, the draft does not mention an action plan if an enemy state and non-state actors use commercial remote sensing data to generate GEOINT, particularly of foreign origin, against India,” Chaitanya Giri, Fellow, Space and Ocean Studies Programme, Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations, had earlier told IANS.

He also said the draft policy must also specify the exact technical specifications of sensitive remote sensing data and imagery for different wavelength ranges.

According to the draft remote sensing policy, in the interest of promoting research, innovation, societal applications and value addition, DOS shall make Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellite data having ground sampling distance of five metre and coarser easily accessible on ‘free and open’ basis.

The IRS satellite data and services, which have commercial value, shall be made easily accessible through the designated public sector undertaking under DOS on commercial terms, the draft policy states.

“All available archived satellite data and satellite derived thematic data shall be made available for further value addition, research and development purposes on ‘as is where is’ condition,” it notes.

“How does the policy differentiate between commercial and value-add/research and development (R&D) applications in the case of IRS satellite data is unclear,” Prasad said.

As per the draft policy, Indian entities can establish and operate satellite remote sensing systems to provide remote sensing data.

The private sector can also undertake design, development and realisation of satellites and associated remote sensing systems. They can establish satellite system through their own built satellite or procured satellite.

They can establish Telemetry, Tracking & Command (TT&C) and Satellite data reception stations in or outside India. They can offer the capacity to commercial and societal applications within India as well as outside India.

The private sector can also supply their systems and solutions to international markets. Indian entities can avail state-of-the-art facilities of the government for manufacturing satellite and associated ground segment.

It can be availed from designated public sector undertaking/central public sector enterprise under DOS on commercial terms, subject to availability.

This is the second draft policy and Norms, Guidelines and Procedures for Implementation of Space Based Remote Sensing Policy of India – 2020 relating to space sector put out by DOS.

The first only was the Draft Space-Based Communication Policy of India-2020 (Spacecom Policy-2020) and draft Norms, Guidelines and Procedures for implementation of Spacecom Policy-2020 (Spacecom NGP-2020).

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