Environmentalists oppose proposed changes to Biological Diversity Act

‘Bill prioritises commercial trade at the cost of conserving biological resources’

Environmentalists have expressed concern over amendments to the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 on the grounds that it prioritises intellectual property and commercial trade at the expense of the Act’s key aim of conserving biological resources.

Amendments to the Act were introduced as a Bill in the Lok Sabha by Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav on Thursday. On Friday, Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh, who also chairs the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Science, Technology and Environment, wrote a letter to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla “protesting” his decision to refer the amended Bill to a select committee when the Bill ought to have been perused by a standing committee that had existing mandate to examine questions of science and environment.

‘Heavy compliance burden’

The amended Bill was drafted in response to complaints by traditional Indian medicine practitioners, seed sector, and industry and researchers that the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, which was enacted for conservation of biological diversity and ensure fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the use of biological resources with indigenous and local communities, imposed a heavy “compliance burden” and made it hard to conduct collaborative research and investments and simplify patent application processes.

The text of the Bill also says that it proposes to “widen the scope of levying access and benefit sharing with local communities and for further conservation of biological resources.”

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.

A statement from the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) said the Bill would “undo all the efforts made in the last few years to implement the Biological Diversity Act.” There was not a “single provision in the proposed amendment to protect, conserve or increase the stake of local communities in the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity.”

LIFE said the amendments were done to “solely benefit” the AYUSH Ministry. The Bill in the current form would pave the way for “bio piracy” and would mean AYUSH manufacturing companies would no longer need to take approvals and thus defeat the purpose for which the Act was created in the first place.

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