From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Biological Diversity Act, 2002
Mains level : Proposed amendments and issues
A senior parliamentarian has expressed concern over the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which is in the final stages of consultations in the Joint Parliamentary Committee.
What is the news?
- The Bill amends the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 to simplify compliance requirements for domestic companies.
- The MP questioned the exemption given to AYUSH practitioners from the provisions of the law.
- This exemption could open the law for abuse.
Biological Diversity Act, 2002: A quick recap
- The BDA, 2002 was enacted for the conservation of biological diversity and fair, equitable sharing of the monetary benefits from the commercial use of biological resources and traditional knowledge.
- The main intent of this legislation is to protect India’s rich biodiversity and associated knowledge against their use by foreign individuals.
- It seeks to check biopiracy, protect biological diversity and local growers through a three-tier structure of central and state boards and local committees.
- The Act provides for setting up of a National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) and Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) in local bodies.
- The NBA will enjoy the power of a civil court.
What are the proposed Amendments?
The amendment bill seeks to reduce the pressure on wild medicinal plants by encouraging the cultivation of medicinal plants. The bill:
- Biological resources sharing: Exempts Ayush practitioners from intimating biodiversity boards for accessing biological resources or knowledge (Vaids and Hakims)
- Research promotion: Facilitates fast-tracking of research, simplify the patent application process
- Decriminalization: Decriminalises certain offences
- Bring in foreign investment: Seeks to bring more foreign investments in biological resources, research, patent and commercial utilisation, without compromising the national interest
Need for the Amendment
- Simplifying process: Concerns were raised by Ayush medicine, seed, industry and research sectors urging the government to simplify, streamline the profession.
- Easing compliance: They urged govt to reduce the compliance burden to provide for a conducive environment for collaborative research and investments.
- Access and Benefit-sharing: It also sought to simplify the patent application process, widen the scope of access and benefit-sharing with local communities.
- Exemptions: Ayush practitioners have been exempted from the ambit of the Act, a huge move because the Ayush industry benefits greatly from biological resources in India.
- Certain offences: Violations of the law related to benefit-sharing with communities, which are currently treated as criminal offences and are non-bailable, have been proposed to be made civil offences.
- Imbibing Nagoya Protocol: This bill provides to reconcile the domestic law with free prior informed consent requirements of the 2010 Nayogya Protocol on ABS.
Criticisms of the bill
- No consultation: The bill has been introduced without seeking public comments as required under the pre-legislative consultative policy.
- No profit-sharing: There are ambiguous provisions in the proposed amendment to protect, conserve or increase the stake of local communities in the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity.
- Commercialization: Activists say that the amendments were done to “solely benefit” the AYUSH Ministry.
- Loopholes to Biopiracy: The Bill would mean AYUSH manufacturing companies would no longer need to take approvals.
- Ignoring Bio-utilization: The bill has excluded the term Bio-utilization which is an important element in the Act. Leaving out bio utilization would leave out an array of activities like characterization, incentivisation and bioassay which are undertaken with commercial motive.
- Exotic plants cultivation: 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.
- De-licensing: This provision could allow large companies to evade the requirement for prior approval or share the benefit with local communities.
Back2Basics: Access and Benefit-Sharing
- India is a party to the Convention of Biological Diversity, and the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing.
- It is mandated that benefits derived from the use of biological resources are shared in a fair and equitable manner among the indigenous and local communities.
- When an Indian or foreign company or individual accesses biological resources such as medicinal plants and associated knowledge, it has to take prior consent from the national biodiversity board.
- The board can impose a benefit-sharing fee or royalty or impose conditions so that the company shares the monetary benefit from commercial utilisation of these resources with local people who are conserving biodiversity in the region.