Biodiversity conservation and benefit-sharing with communities reduced to meaningless bureaucratic exercise: DTE analysis

Biodiversity conservation is an absolute imperative but a recent analysis by Down To Earth magazine highlighted that there is no data available on the money received from companies and traders for access and benefit sharing. Similarly, the money collected has not been disbursed to communities, the analysis pointed out. Details here.

Biodiversity conservation and benefit-sharing with communities reduced to meaningless bureaucratic exercise: DTE analysis

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While India has shown immense enthusiasm in ratifying and supporting international biodiversity conventions or in enacting domestic laws and regulations, the country's record in conservation and use of its bioresources has been dismal, as per a recent analysis by Down to Earth (DTE), Centre for Science and Environment's (CSE) fortnightly magazine.

In 1992, the world had agreed on a landmark global treaty - The Convention on Biological Diversity at the Rio Summit and it's been 20 years since the Biological Diversity Act was enacted in India. Both aimed to conserve biological diversity, use it sustainably and ensure that the benefits arising from its use are shared fairly and equitably with the people who have protected the biodiversity.

India had been quick to act in terms of ratification of the Convention and the Protocol, the discussion at DTE's virtual event observed.

"In 2002, the country adopted the Biological Diversity Act and set up an elaborate institutional framework to protect bioresources and to share benefits with knowledge-holders. The National Biodiversity Authority was established; each state now has its own biodiversity board, and each village its biodiversity management committee (BMC)," the DTE press note read.

The BMCs are required to prepare the People's Biodiversity Registers (PBR), and have powers to impose charges and fines for extraction of resources found in their villages.

"What became clear very soon is that the conservation of bioresources, and particularly their utilisation, require active involvement of local communities. These communities need to be active partners and also share the profits of the use of their resources and knowledge," said Sunita Narain, editor of DTE and director general of CSE, said at a virtual event held to discuss DTE analysis.

Additionally, Narain pointed out, that DTE's analysis found that the entire effort to share benefits with communities had been reduced to meaningless bureaucratic exercise.

"The system of access and benefit-sharing can work only if the traditional knowledge holders are recognised; if the traders and manufacturing companies that use their knowledge are held liable for payments; and if this payment is then transferred to the community or traditional-knowledge holder," said Vibha Varshney, associate editor, DTE and the lead writer of the analysis.

Key findings of the report

The DTE investigation pointed out that there was no data available on the money received from companies and traders for access and benefit-sharing.

"It is not clear if all companies have paid for the use of resources and knowledge, or on what basis and how much. In the case of the Irula Cooperative in Tamil Nadu – traditional knowledge holders of the method of collecting snake venom used for pharmaceutical products – only one company had agreed to pay, but even that promise remained unfulfilled," the analysis pointed out.

It also highlighted that the state boards informed DTE that the money collected had not been disbursed to communities because of lack of information about the knowledge holders.

"The law provides that if the information is not available, then funds should be spent on conservation in the region from where the knowledge-bioresources come. As of now, the funds are lying unutilised, say the state boards," the DTE analysis stated.

Additionally, the analysis also pointed out that following the directions of the National Green Tribunal, as many as 2,66,135 PBRs were set up within two years. "Given the speed of this 'exercise', our assessment is that the quality of these registers is poor, and defeats the very purpose of documentation of biodiversity for conservation and knowledge for its utilisation," Varshney said.

Another important point that the analysis highlighted were the legal hurdles and challenges. "Indian pharmaceutical companies are required to pay between 3-5 per cent on the extracted bioresources or between 0.01-0.05 per cent on the annual gross ex-factory sales. But companies have resisted paying," the press note of the virtual event noted.

It pointed out that the courts had held that these companies have to seek prior approval and make payments to the National Biodiversity Authority or the state boards. But the matter has not moved much and it is unclear who was required to pay, how much or what has already been paid.

Amendments to the National Biodiversity Act

Narain observed that it was important to review the recently introduced amendments to the National Biodiversity Act, which were currently being discussed by the joint committee of the Parliament.

"We believe these amendments do not address the substantive issues that would fix the current problems that we have outlined in our analysis. What is needed is to strengthen the accountability of the state boards; to share benefits with communities; and to undertake conservation of bioresources. There is little to suggest that these will be done," she added.

According to CSE, the amendment would weaken the system of access and benefit-sharing by changing the definition of who is required to take approval for access or commercial utilisation.

As per the 2002 Act, there is a provision defining a non-Indian entity, which would mean that an entity that is non-resident or a corporate body that is not incorporated or registered in India would require to take prior approval from the national board, the press note stated. The amendment proposes that the provision defining the non-Indian entity be substituted with "foreign-controlled company".

"It is not clear why this change has been brought about and so it seems the purpose is to limit the prior approvals by the National Authority," Varshney added.

The amendments have also included the term "codified traditional knowledge" – under which the users, including practitioners of Indian systems of medicine will be exempted from the provisions of approvals for access or sharing benefits.

"We realise that the global framework of access and benefit sharing has never considered the issue of codified knowledge – and that this is important for countries like India where traditional medical systems are rich and relevant. But it is not clear how this codified knowledge will be distinguished from the local community held knowledge and if this will not defeat the very purpose of the Biodiversity Act," Narain added.

What needs to be done is to clarify this even as the Amendments strengthen the provisions for sharing benefits with communities and knowledge-holders."

#environment #Biodiversity #Conservation of Biodiversity #National Green Tribunal (NGT) #story 

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