Changes to biodiversity law will weaken it
- Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh has expressed concern over the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021.
The Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021
- It was introduced in Parliament in December 2021 by Union Environment Minister and was referred to the Joint Parliamentary Committee.
- The Bill amends the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 to simplify compliance requirements for domestic companies.
Approval for Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)
- The Act specifies that approval of National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) is required before:
- Applying for IPR involving biological resources obtained from India, or
- Sealing of patent.
- The Bill provides that approval will be required before the grant of IPR instead of before the application itself.
- The Bill specifies distinct approval processes based on the origin of the entity.
- Foreign entities will require approval from the NBA whereas domestic entities will be required to register with NBA.
- However, domestic entities will need approval from NBA at the time of commercialisation of IPR.
- The Bill also extends the approval requirement to IPR on associated knowledge.
Access to biological resources and associated knowledge
- The Act requires prior approval or intimation to the regulatory authority based on the origin of the entity for obtaining biological resources occurring in India or associated knowledge.
- The regulatory authorities under the Act for these purposes are National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) and State Biodiversity Boards (SBB).
- The Bill amends the classification of entities, list of activities requiring intimation, and adds exemptions as listed below
- Under the Act, NBA is required to determine terms of benefit sharing while granting approvals for various activities.
- Benefit sharing refers to requiring applicants to share monetary and non-monetary benefits with benefit claimants and local people.
- The Act makes benefit sharing provisions applicable to research, commercial utilisation, as well as bio-survey and bio-utilisation for certain entities.
- The Bill removes its applicability from research, and bio-survey and bio-utilisation.
- The Bill adds that SBB will determine benefit sharing while granting approvals to domestic entities as per the regulations by NBA.
Offences and Penalties
- Under the Act, offences include failing to take approval or providing prior intimation for various activities.
- These offences are punishable with imprisonment of up to five years, or a fine, or both.
- The Bill decriminalises the offences and makes offences punishable with a penalty between one lakh rupees and Rs 50 lakh.
- Continuing contravention may attract an additional penalty of up to one crore rupees.
Exemption given to AYUSH practitioners
- Jairam Ramesh questioned the exemption given to AYUSH practitioners from the provisions of the law.
- As per him, this exemption could open the law for abuse.
- He is one of the members of the Joint Parliamentary Committee scrutinising the bill.
Artificial distinction between company and AYUSH practitioner
- The Ministry is drawing a distinction between a registered AYUSH practitioner and a company by exempting the former from the Act.
- AYUSH - Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy
- This is an artificial distinction since the registered AYUSH practitioner may well be having informal links with a collective [family or otherwise], which may or may not have a company structure.
- This may well open doors for large-scale exemptions.
Distinction between cultivated biodiversity and forest-based biodiversity
- Ramesh also sounded an alarm on the distinction made in the law between cultivated biodiversity and forest-based biodiversity.
- It is not at all clear what the basis for this distinction will be and whether it can be sustained in practice.
- Diluting the authority of the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA)
- As per Mr Ramesh, multiple provisions of the Bill are aimed at diluting the authority of the National Biodiversity Authority.
- The appointment of 16 ex-officio officers of the Government of India is one such.
- Also, the new bill provides that the NBA approval is required only at the time of commercialisation of a patent and not at the time of application for a patent.
- Analysts believe the NBA approval at the time of commercialisation will be reduced to a formality and will become a fait accompli.
Prelims Take Away
- National Biodiversity Authority
- Joint Parliamentary Committee