the-biodiversity-amendment-bill

CONTEXT

A parliamentary panel has invited suggestions from all stakeholders regarding the contentious Biological Diversity Amendment Bill 2021.

PROPOSED AMENDMENTS

  • Reasons for bringing amendments
    • Demand of the industry:The present set of amendments emerges mainly from the demands of the medicine, seed and other bio-based industries.
    • Simplification of the process:it has been said that amendments would simplify, streamline and reduce compliance burden of the existing law.
    • Increase investment: the government is setting itself up to bring in more foreign investments including research, patents and commercial utilisation in the business of biodiversity.
  • Definition of access:The proposed Bill introduces a  definition of ‘access’ even though the parent international treaty – Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), on which the domestic law is based has not been able to arrive at a universally acceptable definition.
  • Exemptions to ABS obligations :The Bill also introduces exemptions from adherence to procedures for access and benefit-sharing (ABS).
    • The registered AYUSH practitioners who have been practising indigenous systems of medicine would be exempt from any legal ABS obligations if the amendment is passed.
  • Reconciliation of some court decisions: the amendments aim to reconcile some important court decisions that have acknowledged the powers of State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) under the Biodiversity Act to regulate access by Indian industry.
    • Both SBBs and commercial users of wild and cultivated biological resources want  clarification before entering into access agreements, setting up the terms and conditions of use and benefit-sharing.
  • Violation of laws:Violations of the laws 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.

BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY ACT,2002

  • Obligations under CBD,1992:The Biological Diversity Act 2002 fulfilled India’s obligation under Convention on Biological Diversity 1992, 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.
  • Objective: 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.
  • 3 tier structure: A three-tier structure of National Biodiversity Authority, State Biodiversity Boards and Biodiversity Management Committees is in place to protect the biological resources.

NAGOYA PROTOCOL AND PRIOR INFORMED CONSENT

  • Access and benefit sharing:The CBD’s 2010 Nagoya Protocol, the international regime on ABS – lays down that access to biological resources should be reciprocated with the sharing of benefits that accrue from such access, which could range from monetary benefits such as upfront payments to non-monetary benefits such as joint ownership of relevant IPR or social recognition.
  • Prior informed consent:the Protocol mandates that access cannot be without obtaining “prior informed consent” (PIC) or approval and involvement of indigenous and local communities, who are the custodians of genetic resources and related traditional knowledge.
  • ABS regulation in India:India became a party to this Protocol in 2014. To give effect to the Protocol, the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) had also notified ABS Regulations in 2014, which were legally challenged by the bioindustry.

ASSOCIATED CONCERNS WITH THE AMENDMENTS

  • Exclusion of term bio-utilization:The bill has excluded the term bio-utilisation.
    • Bio-utilization is an important element in the Act.
    • It has been argued that leaving out bio utilization would leave out an array of activities like characterization, inventorisation and bioassay which are undertaken with commercial motive.
  • Exemption of cultivated medicinal plants:the bill also exempts cultivated medicinal plants from the purview of the Act but it is practically impossible to detect which plants are cultivated and which are from the wild.
    • This provision could allow large companies to evade the requirement for prior approval or share the benefit with local communities under the access and benefit-sharing provisions of the Act.

WAY FORWARD

  • Following international standards:The biodiversity law needs to be reconciled with international standards, especially those under the CBD and its agreements.
  • Interconnection of biodiversity with other spheres:It is equally important to recognise that biodiversity conservation is intrinsically connected with other ongoing global debates around climate change, food security and public health.
  • Democratising biodiversity legislation:The expertocracy around the legislation should not alienate people.
    • More efforts have to be made to open space for biodiversity governance beyond the legal, scientific, corporate sector and administrative experts.
    • A law that has bearing on our everyday consumer choices, determining our living environment is governed and how decisions around food, farming and medical care are shaped should make space for popular deliberation and engagement.

Community engagement: there is a need to make explicit the links between the Act and real people, such as supporting the rights of farmers to conserve seeds and agrobiodiversity on their farmlands; or encouraging city dwellers to protect trees and wetlands; and demanding a reversal of the air pollution crisis through urban biodiversity.

Some Important Links:

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