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Biological Diversity Bill: What is it, and what are the changes made to it?

The new bill will amend the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, which provides for the conservation of biological diversity in India

Biological Diversity Bill, Biological Diversity Act

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BS Web Team New Delhi

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The Lok Sabha on Tuesday (July 25) passed the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021, by a voice vote after a brief debate. The new bill aims to amend the Biological Diversity Act, 2002.

Let's take a look at what the bill is, why India needs it.

What is India's need for a biodiversity law?

Biological diversity encompasses all forms of life, including animals, plants, and microorganisms, as well as their gene pools and the ecosystems in which they live.

The Biological Diversity Act, 2022 was enacted in response to a worldwide need to protect and conserve biological resources that are under threat from human activity.
 
The magnitude of the damage was revealed much later in a 2019 report by the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), a scientific body similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), reported Indian Express.
 
This report issued a stark warning that about a million animal and plant species, out of a total of around eight million, faced the threat of extinction.

While 75 per cent of the Earth's land surface. 66 per cent of the oceans had been "significantly altered", said the report.

However, efforts to conserve biological diversity had begun much earlier.

In 1994, countries, including India, signed the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), an international framework agreement similar to the more well-known one on climate change. There was a general agreement on three points:

1. Indiscriminate use of biological resources needed to be stopped.

2. Sustainable use of these resources, such as medicinal properties, needed to be regulated.

3. People and communities who helped protect and maintain these resources needed to be rewarded for their efforts.

With these goals in mind, then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government enacted India's Biological Diversity Act, 2002. It established a National Biodiversity Authority as a regulatory body and specified the conditions and purposes under which biological resources could be used. The primary goals are mainly related to scientific research and commercial use.

Why was a change in the law required?

Over the years, a number of stakeholders, including those who represent the Indian medical system, the seed industry, pharmaceutical and other industries, and the research community, have argued that certain provisions of the 2002 law restricted their activities and therefore needed to be changed.

Additionally, nations ratified the Nagoya Protocol in 2010, a significant international agreement under the CBD that included an access and benefit-sharing mechanism.

This mechanism required biological resource-rich countries to allow access to their resources to those who wished to use them for research or commerce, and it required the user organisations to share the benefits of their use with the local communities. This access and benefit-sharing are successful both domestically and abroad.

The government has also been promoting traditional medical procedures over the past few years, all of which rely on these biological resources.

What changes to the biodiversity law have been made?

1. The payment for the access and benefit-sharing mechanism has been waived for some groups of biological resource users, such as practitioners of Indian systems of medicine.

2. Companies registered in India and controlled by Indians are now treated as Indian companies, even if they have foreign equity or partnerships, resulting in fewer restrictions.

3. Provisions have been made to expedite the approval process when biological resources are used in scientific research or when patent applications are filed.

4. The penalties for wrongdoing by user agencies have been reduced.

Why are experts concerned about the bill?

Experts, on the other hand, have reportedly argued that the bill could lead to rampant commercialisation and deprive local communities of traditional knowledge of the benefits of biological resources.

The bill proposes to exempt users of codified traditional knowledge and Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH) practitioners from sharing benefits with local communities.

While this will most likely benefit the AYUSH industry, critics have pointed out that it contradicts the existing law's goal of biodiversity conservation and favours the industry.

Furthermore, it decriminalises all offences under the Act. Instead, it provides a variety of monetary penalties and gives government officials the authority to conduct investigations and determine these penalties.

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First Published: Jul 28 2023 | 3:09 PM IST

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