The government recently came out with a revised biodiversity act, the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 and called for public responses.
Biological Diversity Act
India’s Biological Diversity Act is rooted in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), an international treaty that India ratified in 1994.
The treaty calls on its signatories to conserve their biodiversity and sustainably use their biological resources in a fair and equitable manner.
India responded to the CBD by creating the Biological Diversity Act 2002.
The Act aims to conserve India’s biological diversity, ensure biological resources including genetic resources and traditional ecological knowledge are used in sustainable fashion, and that the benefits accrued from their use are shared with local communities in a fair and equitable manner.
The last bit is formally derived from the ‘Access and Benefit Sharing’ model defined by the Nagoya Protocol.
Three-tier decentralised system: Biological Diversity Act 2002 has a three-tier, decentralised system to achieve its goals:
Local level: Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) at the level of local self-government bodies such as panchayats implement conservation activities.
These include developing ‘Peoples’ Biodiversity Registers’ that document the flora, fauna and associated traditional knowledge of people in the area.
State level:State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) advise their respective state governments on issues related to biodiversity conservation and sustainable use.
National level: The National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) performs “facilitative, regulatory and advisory functions” to conserve genetic resources and ensure benefits are shared fairly – including issue permits to use certain resources.
Highlights of the bill:
Wild medicinal plants:
It seeks to reduce the pressure on wild medicinal plants by encouraging the cultivation of medicinal plants.
The bill focuses on regulating who can access biological resources and knowledge and how access will be monitored.
It exempts Ayush practitioners from intimidating biodiversity boards for accessing biological resources or knowledge;
It is a huge move because the Ayush industry benefits greatly from biological resources in India.
The role of state biodiversity boards has been strengthened and better clarified in the bill.
Research and offences:
It facilitates fast-tracking of research, simplify the patent application process, decriminalises certain offences.
Violations of the law related to access to biological resources and benefit-sharing with communities, which are currently treated as criminal offences and are non-bailable, have been proposed to be made civil offences.
Investments: To bring more foreign investments in biological resources, research, patent and commercial utilisation, without compromising the national interest.
Without consultation: The Bill has been introduced without seeking public comments as required under the pre-legislative consultative policy.
Benefits to Ayush industry:With the Bill, registered Ayush practitioners who have been practising indigenous medicine can access any biological resource and its associated knowledge for commercial utilisation, without giving prior intimation to the state biodiversity board.
Sole focus on facilitating trade:The main focus of the bill is to facilitate trade in biodiversity as opposed to conservation, protection of biodiversity and knowledge of the local communities.
Exclusion of bio-utilisation:The bill has excluded the term “bio-utilisation.” “Bio-utilization is an important element in the Act.