Nano Technology needs Bigger Laws

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This article was written by Deepansh Tripathi, a student of Institute of Law, Nirma University.

Nanotechnology in India has a deep historical connection. Indian artists and craftsmen used nano particles for making weapons and perennial cave paintings about 2000 years ago. Carbon nano particles were present in the swords of Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore and at cave paintings of Ajanta, Maharashtra[1].  Now directly coming in the era of globalization and advancement of technology day by day, technology is changing very actively. Now the next stage is the world of nano technology and we can find its application in our daily life.

In a globalized world, approaches of science and technology are touching the extent of nano-scale. The science that deals with proper understanding of nano-particles is termed as nano-science. It is the study of phenomena and manipulation of materials at atomic, molecular and macromolecular scales, where properties differ significantly from those at a larger scale[2]. Micron size particles of material posses properties distinct from the materials from which they are derived and their properties like colour, weight, electrical conductivity, strength get revamped after accomplishment of nano-scale level.

The practical application of nano-science in ‘artificial devices’ is termed as nanotechnology.  It is a study of phenomenon that understands and controls matter at dimension of approximately   1 – 100 nm (nano meter) and is capable of dealing with matters larger than molecules and atoms but diminutive than a breadcrumb. Nanotechnology is field of science that focuses on energy, electronics, environment and health sector and the Scientist can effectively use this technology for changing properties of materials by making them lighter, heavier or more persistent. In most of the cases, by simply changing the size of particle from larger to smaller changes their property such as change in colour, escalation in electrical conductivity etc. Due to expanded surface area these particles are heavily prone to chemical reactions.

India stepped in the field of nanotechnology in 1998-2002 (9th Five Year Plan) were core groups were formed for encouraging research in frontier areas of science and technology which comprises of robotics, superconductivity, neurosciences and nano particles.

Over the years India has invested 100 cr. rupees for accelerating research and development in the field of nanoscience and nanotechnology and as result it became 3rd country after China and US to have highest number of research publications in the field of technology[3].

Nanotechnology finds its wide application in the field of energy, medicine, information and communication, agriculture, health and heavy industries. For developing nations like India this technology may prove essentially beneficial in achieving UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).


S.NO. Applications Examples
1) Air Pollution and remediation. ·         Titanium dioxide (TIO2) based nanoparticle based photolytic degradation of air pollutants in self cleansing systems.

·         Nano-sensors for detection of toxic materials and leaks Gas separation nano-devices.

·         Nano-catalysts for more efficient, cheaper, and better-controlled catalytic converters.


2) Energy storage,

production, and


·         Novel hydrogen storage systems based on carbon nano-tubes and other lightweight nano-materials.

·         Photovoltaic cells and organic light-emitting devices based on quantum dots

·         Carbon nano-tubes in composite film coatings for solar cells.

·         Nano-catalysts for hydrogen generation.

·         Hybrid protein-polymer bio mimetic.


3) Water treatment and


·         Nano-membranes for water purification, desalination, and detoxification.

·         TiO2 nanoparticles for the catalytic degradation of water pollutants

·         Nanoporous zeolites, nanoporous polymers, and attapulgite clays for water purification

·         Nanosensors for the detection of contaminants and pathogens

·         Magnetic nanoparticles for water treatment and remediation


4) Agricultural



·         Nanomagnets for removal of soil contaminants.

·         Nanosensors for soil quality and for plant health monitoring.

·         Nanocapsules for herbicide delivery.

·         Nanoporous zeolites for slow-release and efficient dosage of water and fertilisers for plants, and of nutrients and drugs for livestock.

5) Disease diagnosis

and screening








·         Antibody-dendrimer conjugates for diagnosis of HIV-1 and cancer

·         Nanowire and nanobelt nanosensors for disease diagnosis

·         Nanosensor arrays based on carbon nanotubes

·         Quantum dots for disease diagnosis

·         Magnetic nanoparticles as nanosensors

·         Nanoparticles as medical image enhancers

6) Food processing and


·         Nanocomposites for plastic film coatings used in food packaging.

·         Nanotechnology-based antigen detecting biosensors for identification of pathogen contamination.

·         Antimicrobial nanoemulsions for applications in decontamination of food equipment, packaging, or food.

7) Construction ·         Nanomaterials for cheaper and durable housing, surfaces, coatings, glues, concrete, and heat and light exclusion.

·         Self-cleaning surfaces (e.g., windows, mirrors, toilets) with bioactive coatings.

·         Nanomolecular structures to make asphalt and concrete more robust to water seepage.

·         Heat-resistant nanomaterials to block ultraviolet and infrared radiation.

·         Nanomolecular structures to make asphalt and concrete more robust to water seepage


SOURCE: PLoS (2005) [4]

Overall nanotechnology could prove effective alternative for solving renewable energy problems and alleviating our over dependence on fossil fuels.

Despite of the numerous benefits of nanotechnology, commentaries and debates have expanded regarding the drawbacks of nanotechnology. Debates regarding regulations on this technology are fostering as it poses serious threat to environment and health. Moreover, considering the ill effects of this technology, while other countries are focusing on risk proposed by it, India continues to concentrate exclusively on the benefits of nanotechnology without looking at the harmful or dangerous side of this technology because every coin has two sides.[5]

The major risks imposed by nanotechnology are[6]:

1) Fertilizers using naoparticls has the capability to contaminate ground water and soil posing a serious threat to health of human beings.[7]

2) Micro sized nanoparticles may enter the human body and might dodge the natural defences that are present to prevent and remove foreign bodies entering human body. Some particles get attached to DNA and disfigure its structure.

3)  Inhalation of nanoparticles may cause chronic breathing problems and affects respiratory system by producing free radicals, producing tumours and causing inflammation. Moreover, it is also responsible for cardiac deaths of persons having cardiovascular disorders.

4) Silver nanoparticles may affect the useful microbes present in environment when used as antimicrobial agents.

5) Usage of nanotechnology for production of Virtually Undetectable supervision devices poses threat of surveillance on corporations, governments and private citizens by external agencies like terrorist groups.

6) Insect sized weapons developed by the usage of nanotechnology are capable of being misused if placed in the wrong hands.

7) Consumer products like that of sunscreens and cosmetics have nanoparticles present in them that are capable of producing substaintial harm to DNA.

8) Inhaled carbon nanotubes have the potential of harming white blood cells responsible for providing immunity to human body.

Absence of Laws for Nanotechnology is a problem!

Right now there are no laws in this field. But now we should not repeat the same mistake what we did in Cyber laws, initially everyone was looking at the positive side of the cyber space but now the nation is realizing that it’s a very potential threat. The same should not happen in the case of nano technology. Although we are not completely aware about every aspect of this technology but still if it has a positive side it will also have the potential to cause destruction. Right now we only have patent laws related to nano technology.

What all the member state should focus on, if not laws but at least proper regulation should be there to govern and regulate this are of Nano technology.


Why India Needs Regulation of Nanotechnology

There are various ethical issues in nanotech research. Areas of major concerns relate to the bad and harmful effects of nanotechnology on the environment and humans, their use in making weapons, and the incorporation of nano-devices as performance enhancers in human beings.

In the Indian markets products like silver-nano washing machines continue to be sold without any check even after knowing that is very harmful for environment. In an experiment, carbon nano-particles were inhaled by rats results in translocation to the brain through the nasal mucosa along the olfactory nerve to the brain.

Policymakers are facing lot of problem while framing regulation because this felid has very vast area and knowledge of this field is still very less and unknown. Kesineni Srinivas, the Member of Parliament from Vijayawada, has taken cognizance of the need for incremental regulation in nanotechnology from the view point of public health and safety.

Policies for nanotechnology should be formed keeping in mind the three phases of regulatory control:

  1. Phase 1(PRE-ASSEMBLER)—It’s the present stage world is facing. Still the making of assemblers is still in process in most part of the world. A regulatory framework should be developed in parallel with the development of assembler technology. We need to carefully thought, that what type of harm these assemblers can cause to the world, then make regulation accordingly. As developers get closer to the assembler “breakthrough,” security precautions should increase.
  2. Phase 2(POST ASSEMBLER, PRE- ASSEMBLER LAB) — Assemblers have been successfully developed, but no assembler-proof containment facilities are available. At this time we need to closely monitor and be protective about the techniques used to make the assemblers because the theft of the technology will be very dangerous for society.
  3. Phase 3(POST- ASSEMBLER LAB, PRE- ACTIVE SHEILD) — Sealed the assembler labs and all the experiment should be done under high surveillance. If these labs are made widely available to people, this will be a open access to even the evil minds and technology can be misused. A logical approach would be, once a design clears all tests, the assembler should be further used and operate under heavy security.

Considering the challenges posed by nanotechnologies there is a need to constitute a body that will adhere to principles of regulation of the emerging Nanotechnologies. The constituted body with the permitted by law, will:

  1. Develop adequate information about the effects of nano-particles on environment and health.
  2. Raise awareness about the positive and negative impacts of nanotechnology among the common public.
  3. Placing flexible and adaptive regulations in various nanotechnologies
  4. Law should be made for the workers involved in nanotechnology industries for providing health and safety measures to them.
  5. Proper checking and risk assessment should be done before launching any device using nanotechonology in the market.
  6. Regulatory systems of nanotechnology must be transparent and stakeholders should be involved properly.
  7. Risk management approaches should take into account, the scope and time horizions of nanotechnology.


The wider application of nanotechnology in food, environment, medicines, chemicals etc poses a challenge for government to frame regulatory policies on emerging policies. Presently, not even a single country has laws related to nanotechnology. So a co-ordination between agencies and departments is required for filling the regulatory gaps. Finally this co-ordination will also enhance the decision making capability of government.

Considering the facts that nanotechnology is a very new field and still most of the people are not fully aware it. Throughout this paper the authors tried show that, this new technology is extremely useful, whether be it cosmetics or curing fatal diseases such as cancer.  But still lot of threats and drawbacks are attached to it. We need a proper frame work which is required to regulate this technology because our little ignorance can lead all of us in danger; by the time countries are not coming with stringent laws till that time at least different member state should have some guidelines and regulation to stop the misuse of this technology. Right now in India, our research is more positive outcome centric but not looking at harmful side of this technology.

[1]  Robert Curl Jr, winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry, enthralled an audience at the 95th Indian Science Congress

[2] Nano werk, ‘Introduction to nanotechnology’

<>  accessed 15 September 2016

[3] Prateek Sibal, ‘Why India needs nanotechnology regulations before it is too late’ (23 June 2016)

<> accessed 10 September 2016

[4] Salamanca-Buentello F, ‘Nanotechnology and Developing World’ (2005) 2(5) PLoS

[5] Nidhi Srivastava and Nupur Chowdhury, ‘Regulation of Health related Nano Applications in India: Exploring the limitations of the Current Regulatory Design’ (May 2008) SSRN

[6] Jennifer Pelley and Marc Saner, ‘International Approaches to the Regulatory Governance of Nanotechnology’ (April 2009)

< file:///C:/Users/hp/Downloads/1111.pdf> accessed 5 september 2016

[7] The Energy and Resources Institute, A report on risks from a developing country perspective (Project Report No. 2006ST21: D3)

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