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India is a member of the SAARC group and so are Nepal and many other neighbouring countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Sri Lanka and others. One thing common to these countries is that these are all developing countries and can ill-afford to independently invest in space facilities. Their initial experimental projections fit in for leasing or sharing of space facilities. They have rightly and wisely, resorted to this option. But India has, in a few cases of Bangladesh, Maldives, Sri Lanka, spurned their requests for commercial help in initialising space facilities for the reason of economic viability of the project. India also failed to offer alternatives or make available consultancy to evolve other viable options suitable to their needs.


As a result, these countries, disillusioned and disappointed, resorted to other sources to meet their demand. China was proactive in the field with goodies and they have turned to China to seek solution and help. This turn of events has caused genuine concern to India. The restricted vision of techno-consideration by ISRO may be strictly professional but is not best suited to India’s strategic interests nor is in consonance with India’s space strategy or the committed foreign policy of friendly relations with neighbours. This slant needs correction to a holistic analysis of such international public tenders. The narrow focus of evaluation needs to be commensurately broadened and that too immediately.


Recent news emanating from Nepal through Xinhua, the Chinese news agency Press Release of 5 May, 2013 and reported in Global Times is rather disconcerting. Nepal had been allotted an orbital slot for a satellite in 1984. This slot, if not utilized before 2015, would lapse back and claim to it would be lost. Though rather late in the day, Nepal has set up a feasibility study committee to explore technical possibility and source of procurement to launch its first broadcasting and weather forecast satellite within the target of validity. At present to facilitate TV broadcast and weather forecast, Nepal's TV channels and weather forecasting offices are paying around 25 million US dollars a year for accessing international satellite services. Nepal is also conscious that to begin with it may not be able to fully utilize its potential for internal consumption and may have to commercially lease out the spare capacity, possibly to India or China or both.


Meanwhile experts in Nepal have stressed the need to develop the whole process of satellite launching through a joint venture of national and international firms with coordination by the government of Nepal. The project would require a huge amount of investment and of necessity would be desirable to adopt public-private-partnership model. As Nepal finally goes ahead with long overdue plans to launch its first satellite before 2015, the country may turn to China, who has in recent years helped a number of developing countries, including some of India’s neighbours like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, with technological and financial assistance for their satellite programmes. In fact, China’s Great Wall Industry Corporation (GWIC) has helped launch satellites for a number of developing countries from Pakistan and Sri Lanka to Bolivia and Nigeria. And now China can be expected to pitch in a determined bid for cooperation with Nepal for this venture on enticing terms. It seems to have already sounded Nepali diplomatic circles on this issue.


China is active, in fact proactive, in the South Asia region and has proffered proposals with dual offers of technological assistance and financial support through soft loans on favourable terms from the China Development Bank. These offers have found favour with many developing countries. Thus China’s recent success in launching satellites, particularly for countries in India’s neighbourhood, has caused concern in New Delhi. There was a joint meeting with officials from different government ministries to come up with a strategy to respond to China’s moves.


As reported in The Hindu of 6 May, 2013, the Cabinet Committee on Security, earlier in March, 2013, had asked the Indian Space Research Organisation to become more responsive and active in responding to neighbours’ needs. This advice was the result of reports from the Research & Analysis Wing that highlighted how India’s lack of interest in such requests and tender notices in the recent past had encouraged China to continue its spree of success in this field. Continuance of emphasis on such stark commercial considerations is detrimental to India’s strategic interests and may even impact India’s global standing.


The above advice to ISRO also stems from the political compulsions of SAARC Charter which mandates reciprocity of cooperation for mutual benefits. Further, India is committed to international cooperation with bonafide altruistic motives to make available space facilities to developing brethren nations at affordable, competitive costs and impart participative training to their manpower for future self-reliance under a programme called SHARES (SHARing of Experience in Space). The insensitive attitude of ISRO and Antrix to the commercial enquiries from neighbouring countries, however small in value or unviable in technological concept, run counter to India’s policy commitment to the principle of cooperation. Thus, if not the product offer, at least consultancy offer can be made. Hence, proper amends need to be made and promptly too. If deemed necessary, ISRO/Antrix may have a resident strategy expert or a foreign office representative on deputation.


 Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.