UPSC Newspaper Clips
‘IN-SPACe will be an autonomous body which won’t be influenced by Isro and it won’t influence Isro’
Surendra Singh is senior assistant editor at The Times of India, Delhi.
To enable India to expand its footprint in the $360 billion space market, the government last week said a regulatory body called the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) will be established. It’s expected to encourage private participation. Isro chairman K Sivan, who’s also the secretary of the department of space, explains the underlying idea to Surendra Singh:
Will IN-SPACe affect the functioning of Isro?
No, the setting up of nodal agency IN-SPACe won’t affect Isro’s functioning as the proposed nodal agency will be a fourth vertical under the department of space. Currently, Isro is one vertical under which there are so many centres, then the second vertical is of autonomous bodies and the third one is the public sector entity New Space India Ltd (NSIL). IN-SPACe will be a totally autonomous body, which won’t be influenced by Isro and it won’t influence Isro’s work. It will have its chairman, directorate and cadre.
Will IN-SPACe’s decisions be binding on Isro?
When a private company makes a demand before IN-SPACe for either using testing facilities or systems of Isro, the nodal agency will talk to the respective Isro centres for providing the facility to the company. Once IN-SPACe has made a decision on an application in consultation with Isro, then that decision will be binding on Isro and other stakeholders. So, only the mission-specific IN-SPACe’s decision will be binding.
As per space reforms, private sector will now play a big role in the space sector. How?
Till now, private players or a consortium of companies had been making and supplying components of rockets and satellites to Isro. Now, private companies can produce their own satellites and rockets and use Isro’s launch facility to launch them for a fee. So, the private players will be involved in a project from start to finish. This will spur commercialisation of satellite and rocket manufacturing and revolutionise the entire process, which till now was confined to Isro. Students can make mini-satellites and can launch them from Isro facilities and we can give them a concession. We may also allow a free launch on a case-to-case basis.
What’s your overview of new space reforms?
It’s an excellent initiative and has come at the right time. Right now, India’s contribution in the $360 billion space economy is just 3%. The reforms will bring drastic changes in the space sector. Second, the requirement for space-based applications has increased manifold. With the implementation of the government’s digital programme, the demand for such applications will explode in the near future, which Isro won’t be able to fulfil alone. Therefore, PM Modi’s initiative to allow bigger participation of private players will help meet the country’s requirement for such space-based applications effectively and efficiently.
Why can’t we have a common policy in the space sector?
Each application has a different characteristic. Like when we are talking about satcom [satellite communication], we are talking about commercial applications. Remote sensing application, on the other hand, is not commercial but is meant for societal good. Navigation has both the things – commercial and strategic purposes. Satcom and remote sensing policies are already there but they will now be modified to include provisions for private players. Navigation policy doesn’t exist and we are trying to put one together.
Is any satellite launch possible this year?
We had lined up a lot of missions this year. But due to the pandemic, our industry [that supplies rocket and satellite components] is not able to work with full capacity and our officials are facing travel curbs. We’re targeting to launch 4-5 satellite missions, including remote sensing [surveillance] and communication satellites, this year.
Is it possible to meet the 2022 deadline of Gaganyaan manned mission after astronauts’ training has halted in Russia?
Though the pandemic had halted the training of four astronauts in Russia, it won’t affect the 2022 launch deadline of the Gaganyaan manned mission as we have kept a “cushion” both in the training programme and launch deadline. In the 15-month training period in Russia, we have kept four months of cushion. The training of astronauts has now resumed. We had earlier planned to launch the manned mission in December 2021 but we have time till August 2022 as our PM had said India would reach space before the 75th anniversary of Independence Day. With the present situation, we are facing a lot of operational difficulties and therefore the unmanned mission carrying a ‘humanoid’ won’t be possible this year. However, we are targeting to launch two unmanned missions before the final one by next year.
What is the mission status of Chandrayaan-3?
With the present situation, we are targeting launch of Chandrayaan-3 mission next year. However, this mission will involve only lander, rover and a propulsion system to carry the module to moon. It won’t have the orbiter as our previous orbiter is fully operational.
Welcome Supervisory Move on Co-op banks
The government’s recourse to an ordinance to empower the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to supervise urban cooperative banks is pragmatic. A robust supervision framework of banking operations, on par with that for other banks, will reduce problems. UCBs have played a useful role in spreading the reach of formal finance to the unbanked, but were considered too small to create any systemic harm and consigned to regulatory neglect. Further, state governments were loath to give up their control over co-op banks. The outcome: failures have become routine due to poor corporate governance and inability to detect frauds, leaving scores of depositors at risk.
Joint regulation with the state governments restricted the RBI from timely regulatory action against these banks. Rightly, the proposed law empowers the RBI to oversee UCBs in the same way as other banks. The regulator should beef up its supervision wing and deploy smart technology to strengthen oversight. Artificial intelligence- enabled monitoring of transactions will allow the supervisor to see patterns in interconnected transactions among multiple banks and shadow banks that today escape scrutiny. The market share of UCBs fell to 3.3% in FY17 from 6.4% in FY02 following the scam at Madhavpura Mercantile Bank in 2001-02. If these banks want to stay in business, they must adopt core banking solutions. Enhancing professionalism in UCBs and improving governance in these banks, often under the thumb of politicians, should be the focus.
Both the Malegam Committee and an RBI panel under R Gandhi had suggested that a board of management in cooperative banks must be delegated powers similar to what commercial banks have given to their boards of directors. This is logical to hold shareholder representatives to account.
Those In Need
Government should consider widening scope of collateral-free loans to MSMEs.
As part of the financial package to help the economy deal with the disruptions caused by the imposition of the national lockdown, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced the provision of collateral-free loans worth Rs 3 lakh crore for the micro small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). The facility, which was expected to help around 45 lakh MSMEs that have been worst hit by the economic slowdown, was meant to assist these small businesses to meet their obligations such as payment of salaries, rent and other utilities, as their revenue dried up. In an environment where banks are unwilling to take on the credit risk, extending such a facility, where the government bears the risk, was indeed a welcome step. However, there are concerns that the conditions imposed on those who can avail of the facility — the scheme excludes first-time borrowers and those whose accounts have turned bad — may have blunted its effectiveness by excluding a sizeable section of the MSME universe from its ambit. This approach needs to be reexamined.
Data from the finance ministry shows that since the scheme’s launch, the total amount of loans sanctioned and disbursed by 12 public sector banks and 16 private sector banks stands at Rs 75,426 crore (over 17 lakh accounts), and Rs 32,896 crore (7.11 lakh accounts) respectively. Based on this, the average loan amount sanctioned and disbursed per account works out to around Rs 4.42 lakh and Rs 4.62 lakh respectively, which suggests that only the smallest of MSMEs are availing this facility, indicating their precarious financial position. However, compared to the scale of economic distress, the relatively low level of disbursements could be the result of both demand and supply side issues. Demand for credit may be low because, for MSMEs, final consumption demand has fallen. Further, the interest rate charged, despite a cap being imposed, may be too high for them. On the other hand, supply side issues may persist. Reportedly, only companies with good credit history are able to raise funds, while those most affected by the economic slowdown are unable to avail of the facilities, and continue to struggle.
If the main objective of this scheme was to boost credit flow to the MSMEs, to help them during this period of economic distress, then surely the government should consider both — relaxing some of the restrictions imposed on those who can avail of the scheme, and widening the definition to include others. For instance, extending the scheme to individual borrowers — small traders, businessmen and self-employed workers such as truck drivers who borrow in their own name, and account for a sizeable section of the labour force — is a useful suggestion as it will help the wider MSME ecosystem.