Biodiversity law crippled at the grassroots

  • Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 12, 2016 10:34 IST
Found only in India, China and Bhutan, black-necked cranes are a vulnerable species. The Environment Impact Assessment report of a proposed hydroelectric project in the Zemithang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh did not mention that the valley is one of the few wintering sites of the birds globally. After the fact was brought out by locals, the NGT suspended the project’s environment clearance. (Lham Tsering)

Fourteen years have passed since India enacted a law to preserve biological diversity, but a basic requirement for its enforcement is yet to be initiated, an RTI enquiry has revealed.

Less than 3% of local bodies spread in 15 states have prepared the people’s biodiversity registers (PBRs) — a mandatory requirement under the Biological Diversity Act. The PBRs are records of a region’ s biological resources—plants, animals and the traditional knowledge of the locals.

Experts say the absence of PBRs puts several endangered species at the risk of extinction, denies benefits to locals from the commercial use of biological resources and lets industrial projects getaway by not disclosing their destructivity on environment.

The BD Act was enacted in 2002 as part of India’s commitment to International Convention on Biological Diversity( CB D ), a 1993- effected treaty to con serve biodiversity, promote its sustainable use and enable“fair and equitable sharing of benefits” arising from the use of genetic resources with the local communities.

Slow progress

The law mandates the constitution of a National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) at the Centre, state biodiversity boards( SBBs) and biodiversity management committees (BM Cs) at the local level—in all the pan ch a yats, municipalities and city corporations. The BMCs are required to prepare PBRs of bi o-resources( both wild and cultivated ), work for protecting the resources and charge a fee on their commercial use.

While the NBA and SBBs in most states have been in place, RTI replies from 15 states, received by Rohit Choudhury of Legal Initiative for Forest sand Environment, show that less than 16% of their local bodies had constituted B MC still April this year. Worse, less than 3% local bodies have prepared the PBRs. Only one pan ch a ya th ad collected the mandatory fee for commercial use of the bio-resources.

India is one of the 17 mega-biodiversity countries with 7-8% of the recorded species of the world. The Western Ghats and the Himalayas are among the world’s 35 biodiversity hotspots. Change in land use and climate are harming several of their species.

States’ performance

Among the 15 states, Kerala prepared the maximum PBRs. It has constituted BMCs in 65% of its local bodies. In Maharashtra, K ar nat aka, O dish a and Northeastern states, very few local bodies have prepared the registers.

Environmentalist Madhav Gadgil said the non-implementationof BD Act is leading to “unjustifiable” environmental clearances for industrial projects in biodiversity-rich regions .“No PB Rs means you are not recording the true state of biodiversity ,” he pointed out .“This leads to bogus environment impact assessment reports( the mandatory study done for a project to get environment clearance). The political leadership is not interested in empowering people and reducing bureaucratic power .”

Source: RTI responses from states, National Biodiversity Authority

Withholding information

In the past few months, the National Green Tribunal suspended environmental clearance to projects where developers did not disclose or assess the impact on biodiversity.

In April, the NGT noted that while applying for environment clearance for adam in Arunachal Pradesh, the government of the Northeastern state and the project developer did not reveal that the site was among one of the world’ s few wintering sites of the endangered black-necked crane. It suspended the clearance and gave directions for fresh studies on the project’s impact on the birds and other biodiversity of the region.

In May, the NGT noted the developers of a hydro project in Kin na ur did not consider the impact on the endangered Chi lg oz a pine grown in the region and used by locals for livelihood. Suspending clearance, it asked the gram sabha to decide if the project breached the Forest Rights Act.

People lose out

Environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta said the concerns of wildlife protection and forest dwellers’ rights would not have been ignored if the PBRs were in place.

As per the BD Act, NBA and SBBs are legally required to consult BMCs before taking any decisions on use of local biological resources/knowledge. Also, the BMCs can charge a levy on the party using the bio-resources commercially. Of these 15 states, only one gram panchayat—in Uttarakhand’s Dehradun— has collected a levy (`1,285), according to the RTI data.

Last year, the state biodiversity boards of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Uttarakhand sent notices to several companies that used biological resources from their states for manufacturing pesticides, medicines and other products to pay a share of their profit as levy to the boards. The boards admitted that several companies exploited the biological resources, mostly unmapped. “Only last year, we prepared the access and benefit sharing guidelines,” said NBA chairperson B Meenakumari. “It will take some time to implement.”

On the BMCs, she said its constitution was an ongoing process. “We made good progress last two years. Local bodies do it; often they have political issues,” Meenakumari said. “We are creating awareness at the campaign level.”

In response to HT’s queries, the NBA informed 42,609 BMCs have been constituted across the country and 2,844 PBRs prepared. It did not provide an updated breakup of the state-wise data.

Read | Message in a birdsong: India must preserve its biodiversity

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