The Environment Ministry’s proposed amendments to the Biodiversity Act 2002 could make it easier to commercialize India’s biological resources instead of focusing on their conservation, environmental activists say, and could undermine the rights and the traditional knowledge of the people who depend on these resources.
In December 2021, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change offers comprehensive amendments to Biological Diversity Act, 2002 through the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill 2021. The amendment seeks to dilute the institutional oversight structure put in place by the original law for the use of and access to bioresources.
The Biological Diversity Act 2002 was enacted to give effect to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992, which aims for the sustainable, fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of biological resources and associated traditional knowledge. The 2021 amendment seeks to replace terms such as ‘biological diversity’ with ‘biological resources’ and ‘knowledge holders’ with ‘holders of associated traditional knowledge’.
“The changes are cheeky and they mince no words about openness in what they do,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, the founding organizer of ASHA-Kisan Swaraj, a pan-India alliance of organizations working for environmental sustainability, social equity and economic viability of Indian agriculture. A To analyse of the amendment by ASHA-Kisan Swaraj called the substitutions a “dangerous change”.
The analysis indicates that while “biological diversity” evokes a complex network of natural ecosystems, “biological resources”, on the other hand, implies a reductionist and linear understanding of biodiversity, which is intended for exploitation and benefit. “There is a fear of how codified knowledge will be interpreted in implementation and in court if challenged,” Kuruganti said.
“The Amendment Bill seems less about conserving biodiversity and recognizing the rights of the communities who are the custodians of that biodiversity, which is the primary purpose of the law, and more about making the biological resources more accessible, especially for commercial purposes, such as for companies”, Neema Pathak Broome, coordinator of the Conservation and Livelihoods program at Kalpavriksha pan-Indian environmental action group based in Pune, said IndiaSpending.
“The amendment came as a shock because there has been, occasionally or often even, a sustained campaign demanding changes to the Biodiversity Act 2002 to bring it more in line with the Nagoya Protocol (an international agreement on sharing the benefits of access to biological resources, of which India is a party signatory) and ensuring that there is greater equity at the local level in terms of benefit sharing,” said Pathak Broome. “But what happened was quite the opposite – which sought to make the 2002 law even less fair and which reduced the power of the biodiversity committees.”
The bill is currently being referred to a joint parliamentary committee for evaluation. The last session of the committee on February 8, 2022, collected input from representatives of eight state biodiversity councils.
IndiaSpending asked the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change for its comments on claims by activists and experts that the amendment will enhance the commercialization of India’s biodiversity. We’ll update the story when we get their response.
The 2002 law provided for a three-level structure composed of a National Biodiversity Authority at the national level, State Biodiversity Councils at the state level and Biodiversity Management Committees at the local body level. the primary responsibility Biodiversity Management Committees is to document local biodiversity and associated knowledge in the form of a Popular Biodiversity Register.
But the amendment bill aims to completely dilute institutional structures such as biodiversity management committees and central/state biodiversity committees and give primacy to the National Biodiversity Authority, campaigners say . The amendment States that the “Biodiversity Management Committee represented by the National Biodiversity Authority” will determine the fair and equitable sharing of benefits.
A declaration published by the Environmental Justice Coalition in India, made up of 34 civil society organizations, activists and experts, said such dilution would undermine the oversight of biodiversity management committees. “The benefit of this dilution will accrue to private companies, including [multi-national corporations]and in particular those involved in AYUSH [Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa-Rigpa and Homoeopathy] industries,” the statement read.
The original law required prior approval of the National Biodiversity Authority to access biological resources for certain categories of persons/legal persons, which included persons who are not citizens of India and bodies which are not registered or incorporated in India, basically any type of ” foreign presence,” Kurugunti said. But the amendment limits this to “foreign controlled companywhich is incorporated outside India, which means that no company incorporated or registered in India is required to take the approval of the National Biodiversity Authority, she added.
“They changed the definitions in such a way that through alliances with Indian partners, foreign organizations can now access resources,” Pathak Broome said. “These provisions are likely to create greater opportunities for biopiracy. These were already weak [and have] even more weakened.
Biopiracy occurs when organizations or researchers use indigenous biological resources for commercial purposes, often based on people’s traditional knowledge, without official authorization or sanction. This leads to the exploitation of crops from which bioresources are derived. Examples are attempts by foreign companies to obtain patents on products that have long been used in India, such as neem, Basmati rice, Turmeric and Darjeeling tea.
“The 2002 law had a control function when applying for intellectual property rights, especially patents,” Kuruganti said. “But, under the amendment, prior approval from the National Biodiversity Authority is not required for Indian companies with foreign stakeholders. So in the case of biopiracy, it becomes a struggle. post facto to establish that biopiracy has occurred and whether piracy issues arise.
Experts also raised concerns about how the new amendment was approved without a consultation process. In the statement of objects and reasonsThe ministry said the amendment resulted from concerns from stakeholders including India’s medical, seed, industry and research sectors “urging to simplify, streamline and reduce the burden of compliance in order to foster an environment conducive to collaborative research and investment”. and simplify the patent process (…).
an initial Evaluation of the amendment of Legal initiative for the forest and the environment in December 2021 noted that the bill had been introduced by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change without seeking the public comments required under the Pre-legislative advisory policy, 2014.
“The changes were basically driven by inputs from the Ayush industry and the seed industry,” Kuruganti added. “This is an example of hasty decisions that do not take into account the deliberative democratic process that must be followed, such as consultation with those who will be affected by the bill. All the pre-draft processes and the various committees that were set up, mainly consulted representatives of AYUSH and the seed industry.
The amendment also look for to remove the Biological Diversity Act 2002 from the prevailing environmental case law governed by the Framework Act of Environmental Protection Act 1986, as per a statement by the Environmental Justice Coalition India. Under the 2002 law, all offenses against the environment and related rights are considered criminal offences. Through the new bill, the ministry proposes to reduce these violations of the Biodiversity Act to mere civil offenses.
This article first appeared on IndiaSpendinga data-driven, public interest journalism nonprofit.