Govt introduces amendment Bill, decriminalising use of biological resources by ‘Vaids’, ‘Hakims’ and AYUSH practitioners

Though the Bill has provisions where users will have to go for "prior intimation to State Biodiversity Board for accessing biological resources

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Last Updated on January 6, 2024 by The Health Master

NEW DELHI: The government on Thursday in Lok Sabha introduced the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which seeks to facilitate fast-tracking of research, encourage the Indian system of medicine, and decriminalize certain provisions for use of traditional knowledge of such resources, including seeds by local communities, ‘vaids’, ‘hakims’ and registered AYUSH practitioners who have been practicing indigenous medicines for “sustenance and livelihood.”.

The Bill, introduced by environment minister Bhupender Yadav amid a din, also aims to reduce pressure on wild medicinal plants by encouraging cultivation of such plants and facilitating transfer of research results while utilizing the biological resources available in India, including patent and commercial utilization, without compromising the national interest.

Though Sougata Ray of the TMC gave a prior notice to speak on the Bill, he preferred not to intervene when called by the Chair during disruption in the House. The proposed legislation was then introduced with a voice vote before the House adjourned for the day without taking up any other legislative business.

The proceedings of the Lok Sabha were disrupted due to the Opposition’s protests demanding the resignation of junior home minister Ajay Mishra Teni over the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, which witnessed the killing of eight people, including four farmers and a journalist, on October 3.

The Bill, once passed by Parliament, would amend the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, which was enacted to provide for the conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components, and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of biological resources and knowledge.

“The said Act seeks to fulfill India’s obligations under the Convention of Biological Diversity and Nagoya Protocol on access and benefit sharing and to ensure that the benefits derived from the use of biological resources and associated traditional knowledge are shared in a fair and equitable manner among the indigenous and local communities,” said the statement of objects and reasons of the Bill.

The government introduced the Bill in the backdrop of certain concerns raised by the stakeholders, representing different sectors including the Indian system of medicine, seed, industry, and research, urging to simplify, streamline, and reduce the compliance burden in order to encourage a conducive environment for collaborative research and investment.

The objective of the proposed legislation is also to simplify the patent application process, widen the scope of levies on access and benefit sharing with local communities.

Though the Bill has provisions where users will have to go for “prior intimation to State Biodiversity Board for accessing biological resources,”, it gives exemption to users of certain categories, including local communities.

The Bill said that the provisions of the prior intimation clause “shall not apply to the codified traditional knowledge, cultivated medicinal plants and their products, local people and communities of the area, including growers and cultivators of biodiversity, vaids, hakims, and registered AYUSH practitioners who have been practicing indigenous medicines, including Indian systems of medicine for sustenance and livelihood”.

Experts, meanwhile, questioned why the government didn’t seek public comments on the proposed amendment as it concerns every part of the country and also pertains to India’s international commitment under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The statement of objects and reasons of the Bill, however, said that the proposed legislation would facilitate fast-tracking of research, patent application process, transfer of research results while utilizing the biological resources available in India “without compromising the objectives of United Nation Convention on Biological Diversity and its Nagoya Protocol”.

The Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE)—a – Delhi-based environmental research group—in its initial comments on the bill said that the principal aims of the proposed legislation were to “reduce the compliance burden” and “facilitate investment.”. “Conservation of biological resources is clearly the last priority. “The Amendment Bill will undo all the efforts made in the last few years to implement the Biological Diversity Act,” it said.

Noting that the main focus of the Bill is to facilitate the trade in biodiversity, the LIFE in its analysis said, “Not a single provision in the proposed amendment relates to protection, conservation, or increasing the stake of local communities in the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity.

The amendment seems to be done with the sole intention of providing benefit to the AYUSH industry. There is not even one provision in the proposed amendment which aims to enhance either the level of protection of biodiversity or in making the Nagoya Protocol implemented in its true letter and spirit.”

The LIFE also flagged how the Bill has diluted the penalty provision by replacing imprisonment with fines and providing for a joint secretary-level officer to determine the penalties.

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