‘Bring regulation of biotechnological processes under the Biodiversity Act’

The second Indian Biodiversity Congress (IBC 2012) held at Bangalore earlier this month has called for a ban on field trials of Genetically Modified (GM) crops in India and a 10-year moratorium on Bt food crops.

The three-day event, which witnessed a large turnout of scientists, conservationists, environmentalists, civil society groups and local communities from across the country, stressed the need to bring the regulation of biotechnological processes and products under the purview of the Biodiversity Act. For the purpose, the Department of Biotechnology should be brought within the Ministry of Environment and Forests, it suggested.

The recommendations, issued by the IBC secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram, urged the government to exclude GM crops from India’s food security programmes and farming systems. It opposed the move to set up the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India to clear the cultivation of GM crops and instead proposed the adoption of the National Biosafety Protection Regime. The document called for a transparent, independent review of the 10 years of Bt cotton farming and its impact before extending its cultivation to more areas.

It demanded a master plan for biodiversity economics of India to boost conservation efforts at the grassroots level. The master plan, it said, would take into account the greater biodiversity available outside the protected areas, particularly in villages.

The document stressed the need for clarification on the status of biodiversity registers and control over access to the documented resources and knowledge to prevent unapproved use of the registers by external forces. It also mooted the integration of biodiversity management committees with the panchayathi raj system.

Underlining the imperative to address the human-wildlife conflict in several parts of the country, the meet mooted steps to facilitate the exchange of information between the Forest Department and local people through grama sabhas. It suggested discussions on instances and frequency of conflict, adoption of precautionary steps like wildlife movement alerts and changes in cropping patterns as well as a mitigation measures like speedy compensation for affected farmers.

Opposing the government move to set up the National Investment Board and permit Foreign Direct Investment in retail trade, participants in the congress warned that these would be disastrous to the country’s traditional agricultural and biodiversity systems.

The NIB, they feared, would clear investors of environmental responsibilities while FDI in retail business could affect the very survival of small farmers.

The document adopted by the congress stressed the need to recognise the importance of biodiversity conservation in poverty alleviation and food security programmes, environment and climate change mitigation and EIA procedures. The meet organised by the Centre for Innovation in Science and Social Action (CISSA) in association with the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Bangalore, Navdanya, Delhi, Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions, Bangalore and Government of Karnataka, urged political parties to incorporate the Green agenda into their policy framework.

It called for the implementation of the recommendations of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) with the help of Dtate biodiversity boards in a phased manner.

IBC also demanded strengthening of on-farm conservation initiatives of indigenous varieties of flora and fauna, with proper recognition of and incentives for farmers.

IBC organising secretary A. Biju Kumar said it had been decided to form a network of independent and inter-disciplinary scientists and citizens to lobby for the biodiversity of the country and ensure that conservation targets were met.

“A 10- member team led by Vandana Shiva has been constituted to frame strategies and action plans”, he said.