The Lok Sabha on July 25 passed the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 amidst sloganeering by Opposition Members demanding that Prime Minister, Narendra Modi make a statement on the Manipur violence.
The Bill aims to amend the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. “In the 20 years since the Act was in brought into force by the Vajpayee government, we have seen that there were problems and it was necessary to address them,” said Bhupendra Yadav, Minister for Environment and Forests and Climate Change in the Lok Sabha. “To ensure that tribes and vulnerable communities benefit from the proceeds of medicinal forest products, these amendments were necessary. By decriminalising certain activities, we are encouraging Ayurveda as well as ease of doing business.”
The amended Bill was drafted in response to complaints by traditional Indian medicine practitioners, the seed sector, industry and researchers that the Act imposed a heavy “compliance burden” and made it hard to conduct collaborative research and investments and simplify patent application processes.
The text of the Bill also says that it proposes to “widen the scope of levying access and benefit sharing with local communities and for further conservation of biological resources.”
The Bill sought to exempt registered AYUSH medical practitioners and people accessing codified traditional knowledge, among others, from giving prior intimation to State biodiversity boards to access biological resources for certain purposes.
Environmentalist organisations such as Legal Initiative for Forests and Environment (LIFE) have said that the amendments were made to “solely benefit” the AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy) Ministry and would pave the way for “bio piracy.” The modifications would exempt AYUSH manufacturing companies from needing approvals from the NBA and thus will go against one of the core provisions of the Act.
The Bill decriminalises a range of offences under the Act and substitutes them with monetary penalties. It empowers government officials to hold inquiries and determine penalties.
The Biological Diversity Act, 2002 was framed to give effect to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), 1992, that strives for sustainable, fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilisation of biological resources and associated traditional knowledge. To do this, it formulates a three-tier structure consisting of a National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) at the national level, State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) at the State level and Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) at local body levels. The primary responsibility of the BMCs is to document local biodiversity and associated knowledge in the form of a People’s Biodiversity Register.
An analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and the Down To Earth magazine on how the Biodiversity Act was being practically implemented, pointed out serious shortcomings. There was no data available — barring a few States — on the money received from companies and traders for access and benefit-sharing from use of traditional knowledge and resources. It was unclear if companies had even paid communities despite commitments.
A Joint Parliamentary Committee was constituted on December 2021 to analyse the Amendment Bill. Congress spokesperson, Jairam Ramesh, who was a member of the committee, in a letter addressed to other members and BJP MP Sanjay Jaiswal — the committee chairperson — said that these exemptions could open the law for abuse. The final text of the Bill was sent back to the Lok Sabha by the Committee without any modifications.