Union Budget 2019: For all these years ISRO has successfully created a space architecture, which has played an important role in India’s social development.
By Dr Ajey Lele
Budget 2019: Modi 2.0 has a major economic ambition. There is a desire to leapfrog in respect of Indian economy. The goal is to have a $5 trillion economy by 2024-25. It is not going to be an easy task. India’s industrial sector, both private and public would have to play a major role to fulfil this desire. For this, the existing industrial ecosystem is not going to be sufficient. There is a need to diversify and invest in new sectors.
It appears that one new sector which the present government has identified is the Space Sector. During her budget speech Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has announced the birth of a new public sector enterprise in the space sector, called New Space India Limited (NSIL). This organisation would function as the commercial arm of India Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
Today, India’s space programme has earned a global reputation owing to its professionalism. It is one of the most successful space programmes globally and is famous for its frugal engineering. Particularly, in the arena of the launching of small satellites, India is much in demand. This is owing to India’s very reliable satellite launch system and its cost-effectiveness. For all these years ISRO has successfully created a space architecture, which has played an important role in India’s social development. Also, almost for the last two to three decades, ISRO has been successful in expanding its global footprint from a commercial perspective.
Since 1992, ISRO’s commercial arm Antrix Corporation Limited or simply Antrix has been responsible for promoting and commercially marketing their products and services. It is commercially serving various international customers by providing launch services, manufacturing satellites, transponder leasing, and establishment of ground infrastructure and selling the data generated with the help of remote sensing satellites. During the year 2008, Antrix was awarded ‘MINIRATNA’ status. Its yearly profit after tax has been around Rs 200 crores during the last few years.
In India, the media attention since the beginning of the year 2019 was so much focussed on general elections that almost no one took note of the starting of the new Central Public Sector Enterprise (CPSE), under the administrative control of Department of Space called NewSpace India Limited (NSIL) during the first week of March.
NSIL is expected to transfer Small Satellite technology to industry. There are major plans for the future, where the industry engagement would take place in the arena of the manufacture of Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) and productionisation of Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) through the Indian Industry. Also, few other technologies would be transferred to the industry and marketing of Space-based products and services would be done jointly. Some reports indicate that eventually, the government may close down the Antrix, however, there is no confirmation from any government sources in this regard. Surprisingly, this year’s budget only makes the provision of Rs 10 crores under the capital head expenditure. From this, it appears that ISRO feels the need for trading very cautiously when it comes to transferring of rocket technology to the industry.
The 2019-2020 budget for ISRO appears to be reasonable, but the question is: ‘Is it sufficient’? The FM has made provisions for Rs 12473.26 crores. There is a marginal increase by Rs 935 crores from what was projected during Feb 2019, the vote on account budget. As compared to the revised estimates (RE) for the year 2018-2019, this year’s budget is only Rs 1273 cores more. India has major programmes lined up from missions to Sun, to Mars & to Venous and ambitious missions like human space mission and establishment of the space station. Unfortunately, this year’s budget document does not provide the programme specific details of allocations. Hence, it would be difficult to make a detailed assessment. All these programmes would mature between next one to ten years period; hence it is expected that depending on the need, every year provisions would be made. In fact, during December 2018, the Union cabinet had approved a budget of Rs 10,000 crore for India’s human space mission. This approval was given by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA). This year’s budget shows an increase in the capital outlay on space research by around Rs 1000 crores. Also, more money has been made available for various projects in the field of space technologies and space sciences.
Modi 2.0 has major ambitions for the space sector from commercial angle to reach the Moon and the Sun. ISRO has the capability to achieve these ambitions, but the government has to walk the talk and that is only possible provided adequate budget has been made available. This year’s budget has taken some baby steps in that direction, which should be welcomed, but definitely, ISRO needs and deserves more.
(Author is Senior Fellow, IDSA, New Delhi. Views are personal)