Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 | 18 Dec 2021
Why in News
Recently, the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was tabled in the Parliament.
- The amendments seek to decriminalise certain provisions and bring more foreign investments in the chain of biological resources, including research, patent and commercial utilisation, without compromising the national interest.
- However, opposition parties have cited concerns over the bill and it is being referred to a select committee. They demanded the bill to be referred to the Parliament standing committee.
- A Select Committee is formed for examining a particular Bill and its membership is limited to Members of Parliament from one House. It’s chaired by MPs from the ruling party.
- Objective: The bill looks to relax certain rules in the Biological Diversity Act, 2002.
- The 2002 Act imposed a heavy “compliance burden” on Indian medicine practitioners, seed sector, industry & researchers and made it hard to conduct collaborative research and investments.
- Simplify Research Process: The amendments also streamline the process of Patenting for Indian researchers to encourage patenting.
- For this, regional patenting centres will be opened across the country.
- Boosting Indian Medicine System: It seeks to give a fillip to “Indian system of medicine”, and facilitate fast-tracking of research, patent application process, transfer of research results while utilising the biological resources available in India.
- It seeks to empower local communities to be able to utilise resources, particularly of medicinal value, such as seeds.
- The Bill looks to encourage farmers to increase cultivation of medicinal plants.
- These objectives to be achieved without compromising the objectives of the United Nation Convention on Biological Diversity.
- Decriminalising Certain Provisions: It seeks to decriminalise certain provisions in the chain of biological resources.
- These changes were brought in consonance with India’s ratification of Nagoya Protocol (access to generic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilisation) in 2012.
- Allowing Foreign Investments: It also allows for foreign investment in research in biodiversity. However, this investment will necessarily have to be made through Indian companies involved in biodiversity research.
- For foreign entities the approval from the National Biodiversity Authority is necessary.
- Exempting AYUSH Practitioners: The Bill seeks to exempt registered AYUSH medical practitioners and people accessing codified traditional knowledge, among others, from giving prior intimation to State biodiversity boards for accessing biological resources for certain purposes.
- Biological Diversity Act, 2002: It was enacted by the Parliament, to provide for:
- Conservation of biological diversity,
- Sustainable use of its components
- Fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the use of biological resources and knowledge.
- Nagoya Protocol
- 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.
Concerns Raised by The Experts
- Trade over Conservation: It prioritises intellectual property and commercial trade at the expense of the act’s key aim of conserving biological resources.
- Threat of Bio-piracy: The exemptions to AYUSH Practitioners no longer need to take approvals, would pave the way for “bio piracy”.
- Biopiracy is the practice of exploiting naturally occurring genetic or biochemical material in commerce.
- Marginalising Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs): The proposed amendments allow for state biodiversity boards to represent BMCs to determine terms of benefit sharing,
- Under the Biodiversity Act 2002, national and state biodiversity boards are required to consult the biodiversity management committees (constituted by every local body) while taking any decision relating to the use of biological resources.
- Sidelining Local Communities: The bill also exempts cultivated medicinal plants from the purview of the Act. However, 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.
- Effective Implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA): The government must make an effort to build trust between its agencies in the area and the people who depend on these forests by treating them as equal citizens like everyone else in the country..
- The FRA’s loopholes have already been identified; all it needs is to work on amending it.
- Integration of International Treaties: The implementation of Nagoya Protocol cannot work in isolation and thus must be commensurate with other international treaties.
- Therefore, integration between Nagoya Protocol and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) need to consider the legislative, administrative and policy measures that cross each other’s path
- People’s Biodiversity Register (PBR): PBR should aim to document folk knowledge of status, uses, history, ongoing changes and forces driving changes in biodiversity resources, and people’s perceptions of how these resources should be managed.
- PBRs can be useful to preserve the rights of farmers or communities over the traditional knowledge they may hold over a particular variety.