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Insights into Editorial: ‘Holes’ in Biodiversity Bill

 

 

Context:

Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh has criticised the provisions of the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 that is currently being reviewed by a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC).

The law was introduced in Parliament on December 16 2021 by the Union Environment Minister and was referred to the JPC.

 

About Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021:

The Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was tabled in the Parliament.

The amendments seek to decriminalize certain provisions and bring more foreign investments in the chain of biological resources, including research, patent and commercial utilisation, without compromising the national interest.

It seeks to decriminalize certain provisions in the chain of biological resources.

These changes were brought in consonance with India’s ratification of Nagoya Protocol (access to generic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilisation) in 2012.

However, opposition parties have cited concerns over the bill and it is being referred to a select committee. They demanded the bill to be referred to the Parliament standing committee.

 

What do the amendments in the Bill deal with?

  1. The Biological Diversity Act, 2002 was framed to give effect to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), 1992, that strives for sustainable, fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilisation of biological resources and associated traditional knowledge.
  2. To do this, it formulates a three-tier structure consisting of a National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) at the national level, State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) at the State level and Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) at local body levels.
  3. The primary responsibility of the BMCs is to document local biodiversity and associated knowledge in the form of a People’s Biodiversity Register.
  4. The amended Bill was drafted in response to complaints by traditional Indian medicine practitioners, the seed sector, and industry and researchers that the Act imposed a heavy “compliance burden” and made it hard to conduct collaborative research and investments and simplify patent application processes.
  5. The text of the Bill also says that it proposes to “widen the scope of levying access and benefit sharing with local communities and for further conservation of biological resources.”
  6. The Bill seeks to exempt registered AYUSH medical practitioners and people accessing codified traditional knowledge, among others, from giving prior intimation to State biodiversity boards for accessing biological resources for certain purposes.
  7. Environmentalist organizations such as Legal Initiative for Forests and Environment (LIFE) have said that the amendments were made to “solely benefit” the AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy) Ministry and would pave the way for “bio piracy.”
  8. The modifications will exempt AYUSH manufacturing companies from needing approvals from the NBA and thus will go against one of the core provisions of the Act.

 

What are critical arguments and objections?

  1. Experts contended that the Environment Ministry was drawing a distinction between a registered AYUSH practitioner and a company, and exempting the former from the Act.
  2. This was an “artificial distinction” as nothing prevented a registered AYUSH practitioner from having informal links with a company structure.
  3. These paved the way for potential “abuse of the law”.
  4. Multiple provisions of the Bill, were aimed at diluting the authority of the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), especially the clause appointing 16 ex-officio officers of the Centre.
  5. Another provision, that requires companies to seek the approval of the NBA only at the time of commercialisation, and not when applying for a patent, was of concern.
  6. The Bill also decriminalized violations, such as bio-piracy and made them civil offences, and this defeated the Act’s “deterrent powers”.

 

Are there other shortcomings in the Bill?

  1. An analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and the Down To Earth magazine on how the Biodiversity Act was being practically implemented, pointed out serious shortcomings.
  2. There was no data available barring a few States on the money received from companies and traders for access and benefit-sharing from use of traditional knowledge and resources.
  3. It was unclear if companies had even paid communities despite commitments. In the case of the Irula Cooperative in Tamil Nadu traditional knowledge holders of the method of collecting snake venom used for pharmaceutical products only one company had agreed to pay, but even that promise remained unfulfilled.
  4. State boards told Down to Earth that the money collected has not been disbursed to communities because there was no information available about the knowledge holders.
  5. As per law, Indian pharmaceutical companies are required to pay between 3-5% on the extracted bioresources or between 0.01-0.05% on the annual gross ex-factory sales.
  6. But companies have resisted paying. In most cases, the courts have held that these companies have to seek prior approval and make payments to the NBA or the State boards.
  7. Often, it was not clear who was required to pay, how much or what has already been paid.
  8. The proposed amendments didn’t address these issues and so aren’t helpful in solving the current challenges of implementation.

 

Conclusion:

The new amendments might violate the constitutional provisions of the Right to Environment and the International Environmental Conventions and the Protocols that India is a party of.

India has its own share of experiences and struggles on biopiracy cases, such as for neem and turmeric.

So, at no cost should India allow commercial utilisation of traditional knowledge without the benefits accruing to the custodians of the knowledge.

So, all the concerns raised by experts need to be addressed thoroughly.