The Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2022, aimed at revising the existing Biological Diversity Act of 2002, was passed on the eighth day of the Lok Sabha’s monsoon session. The bill received approval from members on July 25, 2023, despite the ongoing din on other issues, with no objections raised during the proceedings. Concerns were raised that the proposed amendments seemed to favor industry interests and contradicted the spirit of the CBD.
The modifications to The Biodiversity Act (2002) that the Union Government passed drew criticism from field experts. The amendments promote commercial exploitation of the nation’s biodiversity resources, then focus on its conservation.
Taking the criticism into account, the government sent the Bill for additional consideration to a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC). Although, the JPC, led by BJP’s Sanjay Jaiswal, submitted its report. No prize for guesses, the report approves the majority of the contentious clauses.
Despite these changes, environmental experts have raised concerns that the bill fails to address the pressing issues related to biodiversity conservation in India. Of particular concern is India’s commitment to meeting the new conservation targets established at the 15th Conference of Parties to CBD held in Montreal in December 2022. The nation faces a race against time, as it has just seven years to achieve these ambitious targets.
The biodiversity act of 2002, aimed to protect the bio-diversity, traditional knowledge, as well as the community which has the knowledge.
The changes aim to promote research, seed-based industries, and foreign investment in the bio-diversity sphere of the country. Hence, the amendments majorly focus on making ways easy to implement or execute the above-mentioned objectives.
In the primary act, the regulation was done through three institutions i.e. National biodiversity authority, the State biodiversity authority, and the Biodiversity management committee. NBA still oversees foreign investments in the biodiversity field in India. Although, through the amendments, the power of SBA has been diluted. If Indian companies wish to set up a farm to cultivate a certain herb they can do it, without mandating any permission from the SBA.
Eight state biodiversity boards have complained to the JPC about this. Chhattisgarh, Tripura, Maharashtra, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, are few of the mentioned states.
In addition, The Ministry of AYUSH, which promotes traditional medicine system has been exempted too. Which is to say, they can initiate a research on medicinal or any other property of any bio-resource. Same has been done with medicinal plants. If an organisation has to grow a medicinal plant, they don’t have take the permission from the authorities.
Hence, the new bill contains changes with the aim of promoting the production or cultivation of medicinal plants.
What is the significance of the amendment?
The Biodiversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021, was introduced in Parliament on December 9 by Environment Minister Bhupendra Yadav. The objective of the bill is to promote the cultivation of medicinal plants and the ex situ conservation of wild medicinal plants.
It also broadens the composition of the National Biodiversity Authority by adding members from various central government ministries.
The secretary position has been upgraded to a more powerful member secretary, which should help resolve conflicts between the environment ministry and the president. The bill allows doctors and traditional medicine companies to use biological resources without permission from the NBA.
State governments can establish intermediate-level biodiversity management committees at the district level. Seed companies and farmer groups with approvals or rights under the Plant Variety Protection and Farmers’ Rights Law do not need authorization under the Biodiversity Law.
One significant change to the new Bill is the exclusion of codified customary knowledge from the scope of benefit claims. The beneficiaries are defined as those who protect biological resources, their byproducts, create them, or possess related traditional knowledge (excluding codified traditional knowledge only for Indians).
Huge criticism has been directed at this exclusion. The stakeholders believe that the majority of traditional knowledge will be removed from the pool so that the community can assert its right to benefit sharing.
In addition, this knowledge can be used by foreign companies or Indian industries without sharing the benefit with the local communities.
The patenting process of the research or discovery or invention has also been fast tracked, but by establishing institutions at the local level.
In the 2002 act, violation of any the mandates in the act warranted criminal procedures. The arrest in under the act was non-bailable. That has been changed in the amendments. All the charges would be civil offence i.e. the person can pay a fine, instead of jail time.
About Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD)
India was one of the of the first nations to pass legislation protecting its biological variety and related traditional knowledge. The act was India’s way to put into the effect The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The UNCBD promotes the protection of biological diversity and related traditional knowledge, its sustainable use, and equitable sharing of benefits resulting from such use.
The CBD also signalled a paradigm shift in how the world community saw the biological variety and the traditional knowledge it is associated with. The Convention, which was created at the Rio Summit in 1992, established that a country’s biological variety was its sole property. Biological variety was seen as a common resource before the CBD.
What were the concerns raised?
The Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 has faced criticism for prioritizing intellectual property and trade over conservation. Some experts have expressed concern that exemptions granted to AYUSH professionals from reporting to state biodiversity boards could lead to “biopiracy”, which involves the exploitation of naturally occurring genetic or biochemical material in commerce.
The proposed amendments could marginalize the role of Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) by allowing state biodiversity boards to represent them in determining the terms of benefit sharing.
The bill also exempts cultivated medicinal plants from the Act, which could potentially sideline local communities and allow large companies to circumvent the requirement for prior approval or to share profits with local communities.
Why is biodiversity important?
The variety of animals, plants, fungi, and even microorganisms like bacteria that make up our natural environment are all included in what is known as biodiversity. These various species and critters collaborate in complicated web-like ecosystems to keep things in balance and support life. Everything in nature that we require for survival, including food, fresh water, medicines, and shelter, is supported by biodiversity. About 66% of the ocean’s environment and 75% of the land’s environment have seen considerable change.
The JPC report says,
“India is one of the 17 recognised mega-biodiversity countries. It hosts 7-8% of recorded species of the world. As of 2021, 1,03,258 of fauna and 55,048 species of flora have been documented in the country. It also has a vast repository of traditional knowledge associated with biological resources. India hosts four out of 35 globally identified biodiversity hotspots.”
Today, agricultural or livestock production takes up over a third of the planet’s land area and nearly seventy-five percent of its freshwater resources. The effects of other stressors on nature and our welfare are exacerbated by climate change. Ocean overfishing, logging, and pollution are all results of human activity.
Human dominance over the past century has resulted in fast environmental change and a significant loss of biodiversity worldwide. Although extinctions always occurred on Earth, their current rate is unparalleled. Significant direct threats to biodiversity include invasive species, pollution, habitat loss and fragmentation, unsustainable resource use, and global climate change.
The root causes of biodiversity loss, such as an expanding human population and excessive consumption, are frequently multifaceted and result from numerous causes.
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