Reforms should unshackle all that drags and creates friction, retards momentum and pulls down a rising trajectory. When Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman recently announced the decision to involve private sector participation and reforms in the Space Sector to give a new dimension to India’s space programme, it was assumed that the Government at the highest level will opt for a correction course to ensure meritocracy, accountability and targeted results in the top echelon of the Space administration – because at the end of the day, it is the leadership and the quality, capability and capacity of human resource that would matter the most for taking a giant leap and competing with the best in the world- especially when we have the example Elon Musk’s SpaceX and its huge trail of sucess in a short span of time. Today, all eyes are also glued on UAE’s ambitious space programme.
In the present global cut-throat competition, there is no room for the also ran. The nation has the merit, resources and the WINNERS – they only have to be incorporated and given their due place on the basis of real merit, and what should not be forgotten, at least in national interest and in the interest of successive generations, is that picking merit is a sacred exercise.
Incorporating the private sector and setting up NewSpace India Limited is moving on the right track but what about reforming the Space Administration and ensuring it is led absolutely on the basis of merit.
Presenting the General Budget 2019-20 in the Parliament on 5 July 2019, Nirmala Sitharaman had said that a Public Sector Enterprise viz. NewSpace India Limited (NSIL) has been incorporated as a new commercial arm of Department of Space to tap the benefits of the Research and Development carried out by ISRO.
The Company will spearhead commercialization of various space products, including production of launch vehicles, transfer of technologies and marketing of space products, the FM had told Parliament.
Although the CMD of NSIL was appointed on 31 January 2020, the fact remains that the Board of NewSpace India Limited has not been fully constituted even though the company was incorporated more than a year ago in March 2019, as a wholly owned by Government of India Public Sector Enterprise under the administrative control of Department of Space (DOS).
The constitution of various statutory committees (of NSIL) and compliances as per corporate governance requirements are underway.NSIL website
Investigation has further revealed that even the Mou has not been signed till date between NSIL and Government of India’s Department of Public Enterprises. Signing of this MoU is mandatory as the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE), Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises presents annually to the Parliament an overview of the financial and physical performance of Central PSEs.
The MoU, as applicable to public sector enterprises, is a negotiated document between the government and the management of the enterprise specifying clearly the objectives of the agreement and the obligations of both the parties. The main purpose of the MoU system is to ensure a level playing field to the public sector enterprises vis-à-vis the private corporate sector.
It has also come to light that NSIL continues to lack the corporate governance structures. The prevailing State of affairs is further reflected by the fact that NSIL has commenced advertising for new appointments without forming a remuneration committee.
This is what we have in terms of progress made by NSIL in last one year. One may compare it with what SpaceX has achieved in the same period.
- Going beyond the mandate as declared by the FM in Parliament last year, NSIL says it will commercially exploit:
- the outcome of the research and development carried out by ISRO Transfer of ISRO’s small satellite technology to industry
- Manufacture of Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) in collaboration with Private Sector
- Production of Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) through industry;
- Production and marketing of space-based services, including launch and space-based applications
- Transfer of technology developed by ISRO centres and constituent institutions of Dept. of Space
- Marketing spin-off technologies and products/ services emanating out of ISRO’s activities
- These will be achieved involving and partnering with Indian industry, in-line with the ‘Make in India’ campaign of the Government.
Overlapping a good part of these goals (expanded much beyond the scope of what was announced by the FM in Parliament last July), we have the mandate of Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe) – an institutional mechanism approved by the Union Government as part of Space sector reforms. IN-SPACe is “tasked with handholding and providing support to private sector in space activities, facilitating access to ISRO facilities, announcement of new opportunities for private sector and regulation of Space activities by private sector” to ensure optimum utilization of country’s space assets.
The lofty goal of optimum utilization of country’s space assets notwithstanding, one big question that needs focused attention is – what about optimum – or should one say the best utilisation of human asset in the form of our devoted scientists who are very much in the thick of things and have a trailblazing record of success when it comes to carrying forward India’s Space Programme. They should be treated as national wealth and under no circumstances be allowed to be sidelined by whims, fancies and personal or other considerations.