The Biodiversity (Amendment) Bill 2021, currently referred to the Joint Parliamentary Committee for consideration, was tabled in Lok Sabha without public consultation. The Biodiversity Act (BDA), 2002, has been carefully and scientifically prepared to protect and preserve India’s rare biodiversity and associated traditional knowledge. The Act also supported the sustainable economic use of its components based on the principle of fair and equitable benefit sharing. To ensure its implementation in letter and spirit, and prevent biopiracy by foreign research institutes funded by multinational pharmaceutical companies, the National Biodiversity Authority, State Biodiversity Councils and Committees of biodiversity management at the village level were empowered to make decisions and impose fines.
Although the amendments to BDA-2002 are well intentioned, they have weak regulations. While the bill encourages the cultivation of medicinal plants on private land to reduce reliance on wild medicinal plants, poor monitoring and regulation of the supply chain can lead to plant appropriation. wilderness associated with the traditional knowledge of local communities. The concern is real as the bill proposes to exempt Ayush practitioners from seeking approval for the economic use of plants from the biodiversity boards. The amendment pushes for commercial use of biodiversity involving Ayush with easing penalties, including decriminalization of biopiracy, simplification of the patent process, promotion of research-based patents and attraction of foreign investment . This shows that the government intends to reduce its control over biodiversity, a resource owned by the state and the community.
In recent years, demand for access to biodiversity or genetic resources and associated knowledge for economic use and development has increased, especially among the Ayush, seed and research industries. They called for relaxation of benefit-sharing provisions to get more patents. The expansion of patent-related activities has implications for public health, food security, biodiversity, agriculture, indigenous knowledge and benefit-sharing. The traditional livelihoods of millions of local communities depend directly on the rich biodiversity of plant genetic resources in India. The livelihoods, especially of indigenous peoples such as forest-dependent communities, have been increasingly affected in recent years as the quest to exploit traditional and genetic resources increases with the help of changes in land use. policies and regulations.
There are cases of misappropriation of traditional knowledge which has resulted in biopiracy. The proposed amendment deprives biodiversity management committees of their rights to genetic resources associated with their traditional knowledge. The provision allowing the Ayush sector to access biodiversity and traditional knowledge without advice and approval from state biodiversity boards can pave the way for commercial use without benefit sharing with knowledge owners. The amendment compromises the sustainable use of genetic resources and the protection of indigenous knowledge through the scientific documentation of knowledge through the Indian Biodiversity Register.
Already, farmers and poor communities are forced to pay for seeds and medicines that they themselves have developed or created (the basis of seeds and modern medicines) without receiving royalties for their knowledge sharing.
These provisions raise the critical question of the potential impact on indigenous peoples’ livelihoods and the protection of their knowledge where public domain knowledge becomes increasingly private, thus ushering in private rights over public goods. Biodiversity or genetic resources are increasingly privatized. The structural alternations of property rights over common property resources have several implications, in particular for the livelihoods of indigenous peoples. Traditional knowledge continues to be the basis of food and nutrition security for indigenous peoples who have accumulated this knowledge in interaction with biodiversity for generations.
The Food and Agriculture Organization says, “India has a long-standing knowledge and understanding of the use of herbal remedies in its codified medical systems, as well as through its very diverse folk traditions. Knowledge of plant identification, collection and processing methods, biological activities and uses has been imparted both orally and in writing by traditional medical cultures in India. The ethnopharmacologist Elaine Elisabetsky observes: “To transform a plant into medicine, you have to know the right species, its location, the right time of harvest, the solvent to use, the way to prepare it, and finally, the dosage (route d ‘administration). , dosage).
The amendment may allow the private interest to take precedence over the public interest and the proliferation of exclusive rights could be a stumbling block for the provision of many national public goods, including healthcare, biodiversity conservation and environmental protection. Studies show that patents held by the public sector are much lower than those in the private sector, showing the dominance of multinationals in the commercialization of biodiversity. It has led to an increase in the prices of essential and life-saving medicines. Less than 2% of our plants are studied for their phenolic constituents. Most obviously, a gap in herbal research is due to the lack of data on the chemical constituents of herbs available when drugs are camouflaged.
Although India has the advantage of being rich in medicinal plants, it is slow to identify medicinal plants for the discovery of new drugs, which is associated with low investment in R&D. Traditional knowledge is exploited by the private sector. Relaxation of benefit sharing will lead to overexploitation of biodiversity and undue use of traditional knowledge. Government policies must serve society as a whole in order to protect biodiversity and associated traditional knowledge from commercial exploitation by a few private entities.