Exemption to AYUSH practitioners from Biodiversity Law opens it for abuse, says Jairam Ramesh

Jairam Ramesh

Jairam Ramesh | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh has expressed concerns over the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which is in final stages of consultations in the Joint Parliamentary Committee. He questioned the exemption given to AYUSH practitioners from the provisions of the law.

Mr. Ramesh, who is a member of the committee, in a letter addressed to other members and committee chairperson and BJP MP Sanjay Jaiswal, said that this exemption could open the law for abuse. The law was introduced in Parliament on December 16 last year by the Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav, and was referred to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on December 20.

The Bill amends the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 to simplify compliance requirements for domestic companies.

Flagging the presentation made by Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change last month in front of the committee, Mr. Ramesh said in his letter, “The Ministry is drawing a distinction between a registered AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy) practitioner and a company, and exempting the former from the Act. This is an artificial distinction since the registered AYUSH practitioner may well be having informal links with a collective [family or otherwise] which may or may not have a company structure. This may well open doors for large-scale exemptions.”

The government brought in the amended Bill because of the push from many AYUSH companies. In 2016, the Uttarakhand Biodiversity Board had sent a notice to Divya Pharmacy run by Swami Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna stating that it violated the Biodiversity Act for using for using biological resources from the State for its ayurvedic formulations, without intimating the board and that it was liable to pay an access and benefit-sharing fee. The company had unsuccessfully challenged the board’s notice.

Mr. Ramesh also sounded alarm on the distinction made in the law between cultivated biodiversity and forest-based biodiversity. “It is not at all clear what the basis for this distinction will be and whether it can be sustained in practice,” he added.

Multiple provisions of the Bill, he said, are aimed at diluting the authority of the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA). The appointment of sixteen ex-officio officers of the Government of India is one such.

“The Ministry says NBA approval is required only at the time of commercialisation of a patent and not at the time of application for a patent. This is something that has very far-reaching implications and I can tell you that what will happen is NBA approval at the time of commercialisation will be reduced to a formality and will become a fait accompli,” he wrote.

The Bill decriminalises the violations. Mr. Ramesh has argued that if there are a class of violations like biopiracy must continue to get treated as a criminal offence. “The act’s deterrent powers will get severely curtailed,” he added.

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Printable version | May 17, 2022 10:13:50 pm |