Home / Budget / Budget Expectations /  Space industry seeks dedicated PLI to cut imports, tax benefits

NEW DELHI : India’s private space and satellite industry, which crossed the dual milestones of having 100 active startups and $100 million in venture capital funding last year, is pushing for the rollout of a dedicated production linked incentive (PLI) scheme in the Union budget to boost local manufacturing of satellites, rockets and related components, which they hope will help to cut reliance on imports and strengthen India’s private space and component industry.

They are also seeking tax benefits, similar to the Centre’s extended tax holidays given to startups under Section 80 IAC of the Income Tax Act, in the budget. According to the pre-budget memorandum of the Satcom Industry Association of India (SIA), which was reviewed by Mint, the key demand of the industry will hinge on a PLI scheme for satellite manufacturing. “In 2020, India accounted for merely 0.61% of global exports in aircraft, spacecraft and parts, with an export value of $1.03 billion. On the other hand, India’s share in global imports in the same segments stands at 3.67%, with an import value of $5.7 billion," said Anil Prakash, director general, SIA. “A space-based PLI scheme would help boost local manufacturing, and encourage capability building within the country," said Awais Ahmed, chief executive at Bengaluru-based space tech startup, Pixxel.

Industry experts believe it would be advisable to optimize the existing PLI framework rather than introducing a PLI scheme for the space sector.

“The space sector is not a bulk manufacturing industry — it is mostly an assembly industry. It is unlikely that there will be sustained demand for thousands of satellites to be launched, and the numbers, at least initially, could be in the hundreds. This does not warrant a dedicated space-sector PLI scheme," said Chaitanya Giri, consultant at policy think tank, Research and Information Systems for Developing Countries (RIS).He said the sector needs incentives for producing key components such as space-grade semiconductors, electronic equipment and sensors. Most of these are already covered in the Centre’s existing PLI framework, which includes a 76,000 crore semiconductor PLI introduced in 2021.

It also comprises a 3,285 crore Scheme for Promotion of manufacturing of Electronic Components and Semiconductors (SPECS) in April 2020, a 19,500 crore scheme for domestic manufacturing of solar modules, and as of 27 December, a yet-to-be-announced 12,000 crore PLI scheme to incentivize “hi-tech components".

While most of these schemes are directly targeted at other sectors, Giri said most of these schemes already cover the key components needed for creation of a local manufacturing economy in the country. “For instance, solar cells are crucial components of satellites, but we already have a PLI scheme that promotes it. This shows that we do not really need a dedicated space PLI, at least not right now," Giri added.

Another key demand for the space sector lies in increasing the allocated budget for the government’s nodal space authorization body, Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe) — which industry experts state will continue to play a vital role in offering infrastructure for early-stage space companies to use, without needing to make capital-heavy investments in factories and research and development (R&D) facilities at the onset.

“The FY23 Union Budget allocated 33 crore to IN-SPACEe. For FY24, we request a further 100 crore as ‘Viability Gap Funding’ to set up new infrastructure. This can give a much-needed thrust towards cutting-edge tech development by reducing the revenue risk (of startups) to recover costs — while providing a financially attractive return," said Kranthi Chand, head of strategy and special projects at Hyderabad-based space startup, Dhruva Space.

Chand added that an allocation of 1,000 crore to the Centre-affiliated Defence Space Agency (DSA), to facilitate procurement of new technologies from private space startups, could help create demand for these startups within India’s own ecosystem.

To be sure, IN-SPACe is already in the process of setting up an R&D facility that private startups can use to build their products. In an interview on 3 January, Pawan Goenka, chairman of IN-SPACe, said the facility will be ready and functioning by later this year. While the space policy will reduce the need for IN-SPACe to authorize private space projects on a per-case basis, Goenka said the nodal body will continue to play a mentoring and facilitative role for the private space industry — which the latter reinforced in their expectations from the upcoming budget.

Shouvik Das
Shouvik Das is a science, space and technology reporter for Mint and TechCircle. In his previous stints, he worked at publications such as CNN-News18 and Outlook Business. He has also reported on consumer technology and the automobile sector.
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