The importance of protecting biological diversity has been increasingly realized all over the world in recent times. This realization came in the wake of several disturbing trends such as very disturbing pace of destruction of natural forests and fast spread of monocultures over vast farming areas. As biological diversity was lost in nature but its importance was realized by powerful interests, very resourceful multinational companies collected or even ‘stole’ the biological wealth of developing countries, particularly tropical countries more abundant in biodiversity, to be stored in their gene banks for commercial exploitation. In this context need for biodiversity protection laws was widely felt.
The Biological Diversity Act (2002) of India has been generally regarded as a good legislative effort in this direction, particularly from the point of view of recognizing the contribution of local communities in biodiversity conservation and also protecting their interests. While several provisions sought to better promote biodiversity protection and knowledge, other provisions sought to curb undue exploitation by foreign/multinational companies.
However actual implementation of several promising aspects of this law remained weak for quite some time till it was strengthened by the initiatives taken by the National Green Tribunal and others keen on better implementation of this law.
However as implementation improved, some powerful interests who had been able to continue using bio-wealth like medicinal plants in conditions of making huge profits were now confronted with several demands for better and required sharing of their gains with local communities as well as certain limits being placed on exploitation of biodiversity keeping in view consideration of protection and sustainability. This was not to the liking of those who are more interested interested in maximizing short-term profits and gains.
Instead of further strengthening biodiversity protection, it appears that the government has started acting more under the influence of these narrow interests some of whom have become very powerful and influential in recent times. This trend is also visible in the efforts for amending the biological diversity legislation of 2002. The Biological Diversity (Amendment) bill 2021 was prepared last year and has been referred to a Parliamentary Committee.
The provisions of sharing the benefits of bio-wealth with local communities which existed in the original legislation have been weakened in the amendments with more exemptions being granted. At the same time some of the restrictions placed earlier on exploitation of biodiversity by foreign companies are now sought to be removed for those foreign and multinational companies which are registered in India as well.
Such amendments will not help to take forward biodiversity protection, rather it will harm this cause. Significant improvements which have been achieved in recent years of creating a wide network of informed biodiversity protectors will be weakened. The kind of rights of people which had made communities more enthusiastic about linking their livelihoods with biodiversity protection will be harmed or diluted.
Hence these proposed amendments should be widely debated and opposed. The 2002 Act is better without such amendments which are against the letter and spirit of the original law. Let the original law remain as it is while taking steps to further strengthen the implementation of this law in the right spirit.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include A Day in 271, Man over Machine and India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food.