Amid protests, LS approves contentious biodiversity bill | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Amid protests, LS approves contentious biodiversity bill

ByJayashree Nandi
Jul 26, 2023 01:00 AM IST

Conservationists and community rights activists have criticised the modified provisions of the legislation.

The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the contentious Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021, amid protests by the opposition on the Manipur situation.

Environment minister Bhupender Yadav said the government wishes to promote ease of doing business in India (ANI)
Environment minister Bhupender Yadav said the government wishes to promote ease of doing business in India (ANI)

“The biological diversity act is meant for sustainable use of biological components, and fair and equitable sharing of benefits with vulnerable communities,” environment minister Bhupender Yadav said.

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The legislation aims to amend the Biological Diversity Act of 2002. It was drafted in response to concerns raised by practitioners of traditional Indian medicine, various industry sectors and researchers, who felt the current biodiversity conservation law places a heavy compliance burden, making it difficult for collaborative research and investments. The modified legislation also decriminalises all offences, prescribing penalties instead.

“We wish to promote ease of doing business in India. We want research, cooperation and innovation in this sector. We want to promote ease of doing business and living,” Yadav said. “The decriminalisation provisions will also bring huge relief to the Ayush sector.” Ayush stands for ayurveda, yoga, naturopathy, unani, siddha and homeopathy, which the government has been promoting.

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In August last year, a joint parliamentary committee headed by Bharatiya Janata Party MP Sanjay Jaiswal reviewed the contentious draft legislation to modify India’s biodiversity conservation law. It accepted several amendments proposed by the government, which include exempting users of codified traditional knowledge from sharing benefits with local communities and replacing punishments for violations with penalties.

Conservationists and community rights activists have criticised the modified provisions of the legislation.

“The Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2022 becomes first casualty of the disrupted #MonsoonSession2023. With a total discussion time of 19 mins in which 4 MPs & Minister spoke briefly, Bill was passed, amid loud protests. The Minister also moved amendments, voted amid protests!” tweeted Madhyam, a non-profit research organisation.

The legislation exempts users of codified traditional knowledge and Ayush practitioners from sharing benefits arising out of use of biological resources with local communities who are traditional holders of the knowledge, experts have said. Several submissions by experts said that the clause can lead to unchecked commercialisation, without even having to engage in benefit sharing.

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“The Exclusion of Codified Traditional Knowledge (only for Indians) from the definition of ‘benefit claimers’ is detrimental to the interest of farmers, forest dwellers and conservers,” the parliamentary panel had said in its report based on the memoranda it had received. State biodiversity boards had submitted to the review committee that most traditional knowledge being used in Ayush systems of medicines are codified. If they were excluded from claiming benefits, the majority of local traditional knowledge holders will be denied benefits, they had said.

“Indian medicine system has been encouraged by adding exemptions for: (i) codified traditional knowledge as prescribed in the first schedule of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940 (ii) cultivated medicinal plants and their products, and (iii) AYUSH practitioners. This, I believe would encourage foreign investments in AYUSH Drug industry and popularise the medicines used in the Indian systems of treatment thereby earning more foreign exchange and provide better employment in our country,” the environment ministry said in a note on Tuesday after the bill was passed.

The parliamentary panel had suggested a manifold increase in the collection of access and benefit- sharing under the bill. These refer to the way in which genetic resources may be accessed and how the benefits that result from their use are to be shared between people using the resources and people who provide them, according to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. India is a signatory to the convention.

The bill also excludes Indian entities accessing raw materials derived from cultivated medicinal plants from payment of access and benefit- sharing. Experts had informed the parliamentary committee that excluding “cultivated medicinal plants and its products” may lead to the false claims by traders and manufacturers that the major chunk of the biological resources is cultivated.

This has been addressed through a system of certification, the ministry said. “A distinction has been brought out between the wild and cultivated medicinal plants, wherein exemption has been given to cultivated medicinal plants from the purview of access and benefit sharing mechanism subject to obtaining the certificate of origin,” it said. “This would in turn reduce the pressure on wild medicinal plants, thereby improving the status and availability of substantial number of threatened and endangered medicinal plants.”

There were also concerns that “codified traditional knowledge” was not defined in the bill. The ministry informed the review panel that codified traditional knowledge means knowledge derived from authoritative books specified in the First Schedule to the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940. This definition was accepted.

The bill decriminalises all offences under the conservation law, instead empowering government officials to hold inquiries and determine penalties. Experts questioned whether its appropriate to confer such discretion to government officials. Experts also said monetary penalty would be nothing for big corporations in cases of contravention or attempts to contravene without penal provision for criminal offence.

The joint committee was of the view that the penalty structure should not be too meagre and recommended that the fines should be proportionate to the gains obtained by entities using biological resources.

“The penalty is between 1 lakh and 50 lakh, and in case of continuing contravention, there may be an additional penalty of up to one crore rupees. Besides, it would attract more foreign investments in the chain of biological resources including research, patent and commercial utilisation, without compromising the National interest,” the note from the environment ministry said on Tuesday.

“This amendment is significant because it is justified as a review of the biodiversity act, but also because it brings in the first set of sectoral exemptions for the regulatory scope of the law. In this new phase of biodiversity governance, it will be important to see if more sectoral negotiations will follow,” said Kanchi Kohli, a legal and policy researcher.

“A review of the law was necessary,” she said. “However, the present bill can appear to be limited and selective, especially to favour specific bio resources based industries.”

Further, foreign Investments have been encouraged to promote research and attract more investment. The definition of a foreign company in the bill has been aligned with the definition given in the Companies Act, 2013, to ensure companies come under the regulatory framework of the conservation law for commercial utilization and obtaining patent and other companies by state biodiversity boards.

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