The Biological Diversity Amendment Bill, 2021; an immediate need for standing committee on Environment to refer the Bill

The Act provides for the preservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable distribution of benefits derived from the use of biological resources (Biological resources include plants, animals, micro-organisms or their genetic material, with use or value for humanity (excludes human genetic material).

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The Biological Diversity Amendment Bill, 2021; an immediate need for standing committee on Environment to refer the Bill

On December 16, 2021, the Minister of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change, Mr Bhupender Yadav, introduced the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 in Lok Sabha. (The proposed bill attempts to amend the Biological Diversity Act of 2002). The Act provides for the preservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable distribution of benefits derived from the use of biological resources (Biological resources include plants, animals, micro-organisms or their genetic material, with use or value for humanity (excludes human genetic material).

Also Read: Wildlife (Protection) amendment bill, 2021; plugging loopholes in the field of wildlife protection is the need of the hour

The said Act further seeks to reduce the pressure on wild medicinal plants, exempt AYUSH practitioners from intimating biodiversity boards and decriminalise certain offences that account for accessibility to biological resources and benefit-sharing with communities. Proposals have also been made to classify these offences as civil offences rather than criminal/non-bailable offences.

Aside from that, it also aims to increase foreign investment and expedite the process of obtaining patents and IPR grants.

Background

The Biological Diversity Act of India is based on the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), an international treaty ratified by India in 1994. The treaty encourages signatories to conserve biodiversity and use biological resources fairly and equitably. In response to the CBD, India enacted the Biological Diversity Act in 2002. The Act conducts to conserve India’s biological diversity, ensure that biological resources – including genetic resources and traditional ecological knowledge – are used sustainably and that the benefits derived from their use are shared fairly and equitably with local communities.

The final bit is formally derived from the Nagoya Protocol’s ‘Access and Benefit Sharing’ model.  The Act establishes a three-tiered, decentralised system to achieve these objectives. Conservation activities are carried out by Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) at the level of local self-government bodies such as panchayats. Among these are the creation of ‘Peoples’ Biodiversity Registers,’ which document the flora, fauna, and associated traditional knowledge of the local people.

According to NBA data, there were 2.68 lakh BMCs and 2.48 lakh People’s Biodiversity Registers as of April 4, 2021.

State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) advise their respective state governments on biodiversity conservation and sustainable use issues at the second level.

The National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) is in charge of it all at the national level. The NBA is specifically mandated by the Act to perform “facilitative, regulatory, and advisory functions” to conserve genetic resources and ensure benefits are shared fairly – including issuing permits to use specific resources.

Case in point:  Divya Pharmacy V.S. the Union of India

Indian businesses have questioned the idea of benefit-sharing with local and indigenous communities. In 2019, for example, after a long court battle with the Uttarakhand SBB over-sharing benefits with locals, yoga guru and businessman Baba Ramdev’s company Divya Pharmacy challenged the SBB’s right to demand a fair and equitable benefit share and whether such a rule could be imposed on domestic companies.

The court upheld the powers of the biodiversity board in its judgement., in 2018.

Environmentalists have also noted that BMCs have contracted private firms to create People’s Biodiversity Registers, effectively excluding locals from the process.

Benefits of the proposed amendment:

According to the objectives statement of the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021, it seeks to:

  • Reduce the pressure on wild medicinal plants by encouraging medicinal plant cultivation;
  • Exempts Ayush practitioners from notifying biodiversity boards to gain access to biological resources or knowledge;
  • Allows for faster research, simplifies the patent application process, and decriminalises certain offences;
  • Increase foreign investment in biological resources, research, patenting, and commercialization without jeopardising national interests;

Key Benefits

  • Ayush practitioners have been exempted from the Act’s scope, which is a significant step because the Ayush industry relies heavily on biological resources in India.
  • Registered Ayush practitioners who have been practising indigenous medicine can access any biological resource and its associated knowledge for commercial use without notifying the state biodiversity board first.
  • It will also attract more foreign investment in biological resources, research, patenting, and commercialization, without jeopardising national security.

Concerns of the proposed amendment

  • Exclusion of Cultivated Medicinal Plants: The bill exempts cultivated medicinal plants from the Act’s scope, but it is nearly impossible to tell which plants are cultivated and which are wild. This provision may allow large corporations to avoid the need for prior approval or to share the benefit with local communities under the Act’s access and benefit-sharing provisions.
  • Inconsistent with the aim and objective of the Biological Diversity Act: The amendment appears to be done solely for the benefit of the Ayush industry. The bill’s primary goal is to facilitate biodiversity trade rather than conservation, biodiversity protection, and local community knowledge. The amendments are diametrically opposed to the purpose and goal of the Biological Diversity Act of 2002.

What lies ahead?

There’s an immediate need to refer the Bill to a standing committee on Environment, rather than a Select Committee as the process of scrutiny of the proposed amendment is crucial at this point.

Apart from this, all the concerns raised by the joint committee, in the future, should be tended to thoroughly.

Summary
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The Biological Diversity Amendment Bill, 2021; an immediate need for standing committee on Environment to refer the Bill
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The Act provides for the preservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable distribution of benefits derived from the use of biological resources (Biological resources include plants, animals, micro-organisms or their genetic material, with use or value for humanity (excludes human genetic material).
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THE POLICY TIMES
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