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Protecting Indian air space

Chinese satellites taking over
the air space in South Asia
using a predatory pricing
mechanism could be a
worrying phenomenon .
At one level, it is a matter of
policy and operational prudence.
At another, however, India’s
open sky policy that allows the
country’s private direct-to-home
(DTH) operators to lease
transponders on foreign satellites
can translate into a national
security issue. In the days to
come, as the scamper for
transponders become even more
intense, certain questions
regarding the past performance
of the Department of Space and
the growing ability of foreign
satellites to influence India’s
digital scenario will have to be
In December 2014, the GSAT-16
satellite was launched into the
orbit, carrying 24 C-band, 12 Ku-
band and 12 extended C-band
transponders. The launch had
been advanced by about six months
to meet user needs, but came 11
months after the launch of
GSAT-14 in January 2014. The
launch of GSAT-15 will not happen
till October 2015. The Indian
Space Research Organisation
(ISRO) predicts that a policy of
launching these satellites, packed
with more transponders than
before, and leasing of foreign
transponders has taken care of
the needs of the Indian DTH
The reality, however, is
Prior to 2000—the year DTH
services were launched in India—
the government put in place the
policy for implementing an open
sky policy which would allow both
Indian and foreign satellites to be
used in DTH services with the
condition that Indian satellites
would get preferential
treatment. While there can be
little disagreement with this
broad “open sky” policy, the
history of implementation is
replete with glaring shortcomings
by ISRO and the ministry of
information & broadcasting in its
interpretation and application of
the policy.
The 2014 Comptroller and Auditor
General (CAG) report,
“Management of satellite
capacity for DTH service by
Department of Space”, for
instance, details the missteps of
the Department of Space over the
past decade that have not only
incurred heavy financial losses to
the organisation, but the
recurrent delays in satellite
launches, power problems in the
existing satellites and allocation
of capacity for other purposes
have made Indian DTH operators
overtly dependant on foreign
The statement of Jitendra Singh
—minister of state for
development of north eastern
region (independent charge),
PMO, personnel-public grievances
& pensions, Department of Atomic
Energy and Department of Space
—in the Lok Sabha in March 2015
is a reiteration of the CAG
report’s findings. Indian DTH
operators currently use a total of
77.89 (36 MHz equivalent) Ku-
band (Kurtz-under band, used
predominantly for satellite
telecast). Of these, only 19
transponders are in INSAT/GSAT
satellites and the rest leased
from foreign satellites. The
reason for such a lopsided state
of affairs is the insufficient Ku-
band transponders available in
INSAT/GSAT satellites. While no
single satellite operator will be
able to fulfil immediate or future
demand for satellite capacity in
the country, the loopholes on the
Department of Space’s inability to
come up with Ku-band satellite
capacity for DTH services
commensurate with the demand in
the sector and requirement for
national and strategic
applications are glaring.

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