It was under pressure to complete the ratification process

With the Centre giving its seal of approval, India hopes to officially become the seventh nation to ratify the Nagoya Protocol — which prevents biopiracy and ensures that local communities will benefit from the commercial exploration of their natural genetic resources — by the time the high-level segment of the U.N. summit on biodiversity begins here on October 16.

The two-year old Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing will only come into force when 50 nations ratify it, and India, which will take over the presidency of the Convention on Biodiversity here on Monday, has been under pressure to complete the ratification process and put to rest embarrassing queries about why the host nation of the Convention meeting has still not ratified its key protocol. After giving its nod on Thursday, the Cabinet noted: “As the incoming President of CoP-11 [the 11th Conference of Parties of the Convention], it is expected that India would ratify the protocol before CoP-11… This gives us an opportunity to consolidate, scale up and showcase our strengths and initiatives on biodiversity before the world.”

A process to ensure that India officially appears on the U.N. list still remains before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opens the high-level segment, welcoming Ministers from 192 nations, in ten days’ time.

“The Cabinet’s decision will now be sent to the Ministry of External Affairs since this is an international treaty, and will then head to Rashtrapati Bhavan, so the President can empower someone to ratify the original document and deposit the instrument at the U.N. in New York,” said Joint Secretary to the Ministry of Environment Hem Pande. “It will be a miracle if we can finish in time, but I’m staying optimistic.”

The Protocol is vital to India’s interests, given that the mega-diverse country has seven to eight per cent of the world’s recorded species and a vast repertoire of traditional knowledge, including a rich history of alternative medicine systems such as Ayurveda and Unani and Siddha, which use natural resources.

“India has been a victim of misappropriation or biopiracy of our genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, which have been patented in other countries [well-known examples include neem and haldi],” said the Cabinet statement. “It is expected that the [Nagoya] Protocol which is a key missing pillar of the CBD, would address this concern.”

Environment Ministry Special Secretary M.F. Farooqui said India took steps to implement the Protocol even before ratifying it. “India is one of the very few countries — maybe 12 to 15 — which already have a full-fledged law in place to regulate the access and benefit sharing of natural resources,” he said, referring to the Biodiversity Act, 2002. “Over a hundred such agreements [on benefit sharing] have been signed already, and we have been helping other countries to build their capacities in this regard.”