With real estate prices sky high, pollution choking our cities, and civic amenities stretched to the limit, it might be a good idea to move to a quiet, clean neighborhood. How about the moon? That too for just a couple of thousand rupees! Owning pristine, untouched property on the Moon may sound too good to be true. That is because it probably is. That has not deterred Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput who claims to have recently bought property on Earth’s natural satellite, complete with a legal-looking certificate of purchase. But in fact he may be in possession of nothing more than an overpriced piece of paper, say experts.
While a quick internet search will yield names of many companies that are willing to sell you properties on the Moon and even planet Mars, in reality, India has signed an international treaty which makes it impossible for anyone to legally lay claim on a piece of land in space. “The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the moon and Other Celestial Bodies” more commonly known as the “The Outer Space Treaty” came into effect on October 10, 1967. It states that “outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies”, is the ‘common heritage of mankind’ and cannot be owned by any nation.
“The meaning of common heritage is that it cannot be expropriated, or used for private purposes – it is for everyone. For common heritage, private ownership does not apply, like air or outer space,” said Dr. Stellina Jolly, assistant professor of Faculty of Legal Studies at South Asian University in New Delhi. Signed by 104 countries, the treaty became the basis of international space law. According to the treaty, “Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”
Even if there is no treaty, for any nation to claim ownership of an unclaimed land, they must fulfill two requirements according to international law. “One, you need to have physical possession of the land, at least for some time, and second, you must have effective control,” said Jolly. However, these two conditions have not been fulfilled for the Moon and other celestial bodies – yet. Some websites claim that since the treaty mentions explicitly nations and not its citizens, an individual can legally own land on the Moon.
However, the outer space treaty states that governments “shall bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities.” Governments should also assure “that national activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions set forth in the present Treaty,” according to the treaty. Azkia Aarif Hussain, a spokesperson of a gifting website, says that ‘Buying Land on Moon’ is among the best selling choices.
His purchase deed says, “Be it known and proclaimed to all that Sushant Singh Rajput is recorded as the true and legal owner of the property located at Mare Moscoviense (“Sea of Muscovy”), 27.3 degree North Latitude, 147.9 degree East Longitude, Tract 01 – Parcels A0263, A0264 and A0265 (three acres, inclusive) as designated on Luna, Earth’s Moon, and duly recorded by the International Lunar Lands Registry.
The deed is “officially registered and recorded by The Lunar Registry at New York City and legally certified on 25 June 2018.” It is signed by “Jean Sebastian Belanger, Registrar on behalf of the Lunar Republic Society.”
“Government is not bothered because such deeds have absolutely no legal sanctity. If people are acting foolishly government is not obliged to take action,” Jolly said.
If a law develops for private ownership of space resources, and technology advances enough for individuals to physically access the Moon, perhaps that is when the problem may arise. “Whoever has sold lunar land to Sushant Singh Rajput, they were never the owners. If I don’t have a title to a property, how can I sell it to you?” Jolly asks.