The State government has issued guidelines to local self-government institutions to regulate access to the Panchayat Biodiversity Register (PBR), a grassroots-level databank on biological resources and traditional knowledge.

A circular issued by the Principal Secretary, Environment, has reminded the local bodies and biodiversity management committees (BMCs) of their responsibility in securing the contents of the PBR and restricting access to external agencies and individuals. The communication to the Directors of Urban Affairs and Panchayats says the instructions are being issued following recent violations of the protocol by certain local bodies in permitting an external agency to access the PBR without the knowledge of the government or the Kerala State Biodiversity Board (KSBB).

The issue had come to the fore last November after the board expressed concern over the possibility of the PBR being misused unless the local bodies were sensitized to the need to protect the database.

It was in October 2012 that the government formally declared the constitution of BMCs in all the 978 grama panchayats, 60 municipalities, and the five corporations in Kerala, signalling the shift to a broad-based system for the conservation of biological resources. The primary function of the BMC is to prepare and maintain the PBR. Its mandate includes the conservation, sustainable use, and documentation of biodiversity and equitable sharing of benefits arising from its use.

Responsibility

Under the provisions of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002; Biological Diversity Rules 2004; and Kerala State Biological Diversity Rules 2008, the BMC, chaired by the president of the grama panchayat, chairperson of the municipality, or the Mayor of the Corporation, is responsible for ensuring the protection of the knowledge recorded in the PBR and regulating access to the register.

The circular directs the local bodies to abide by the relevant laws and rules on maintenance of the PBRs. The BMCs have been instructed to permit access to the register only under the terms laid down by the State government or the KSBB. They have also been asked to comply with the Biological Diversity Act in securing prior approval of the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) for commercial utilisation of biological resources and associated knowledge by any foreign national or non-resident Indian.

The NBA has announced that it is coming up with elaborate guidelines on access to the PBRs. The authority is considering a mechanism under which State Biodiversity Boards would be required to maintain a log of who has accessed the PBR and for what purpose.