ISRO and the path to reform the space sector
The wheels of the government machinery move quite fast during crisis situation. One such move is the reorganization of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) by the government of India. The Finance Minister has announced in her economic package that the Private Sector will be allowed to compete on a level playing field in the Space Sector. Other reforms also may be on the anvil such as splitting the post of Secretary Department of Space (DoS) and chairman ISRO and shifting the DoS secretariat (HQ) from Bengaluru to Delhi, corporatising the assets of ISRO in a public sector company and making ISRO a pure R&D set up. Allowing of the Private Sector participation in the space programme is a welcome move. Despite the PM’s assurance on the floor of the Parliament that the first PSLV from the industry would fly in 2020, ISRO never really got its act together and tenders are a far cry as there was tremendous resistance from the top. Obviously, if change doesn’t come from within, the government will naturally be forced to act. The same is true of the Space Activities Bill which was ready in 2016 and whose circulation was approved by the Space Commission and the even the PMO. The draft once again was put through a group of scientists with a myopic view and the draft BIll now bears no resemblance to the original. Make no mistake, if the Space Sector has to be opened up, it needs a strong legal framework with an even stronger independent regulatory mechanism – not one which becomes a sinecure for retired ISRO scientists. It is also necessary to ensure there is no geo-spatial information cartel of ex-ISRO functionaries. At the same time, a trail blazing institution like ISRO should not be broken up and swallowed by corporates that are eyeing it’s considerable manpower, assets and intellectual property.