Extensive biodiversity loss in the past decades has spared neither developed nor developing countries. Species extinction, over-harvesting, introduction of exotic species, habitat loss, pollution, and climate change has led to an increased risk portfolio for marginalized communities. This, in turn, has led to fear that the existence of life on earth cannot be taken for granted. These concerns on biodiversity loss led to the gradual revaluation of resource availability integration with that of the development needs of mankind. The need for ecosystem stability and habitat heterogeneity has slowly taken credence over conventional economic standards such as Gross Domestic Product.
Rapidly accelerating biodiversity loss over the past five decades led to a worldwide catharsis that resulted in countries coming together at the Rio Summit in 1992, where major legally binding conventions for the protection of nature were adopted including the adoption of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Since the adoption of CBD more than 25 years ago, countries across the world have taken significant steps to protect their biodiversity.
India, as a key mega-biodiversity country, followed up and adopted the Biological Diversity Act in 2002 to halt and reverse the effects of diversity loss. The Biological Diversity (BD) Act is a complex, multi-layered legislation that seeks to address the issues of managing bio-resources in a decentralised manner without compromising upon the sovereignty of the nation or community’s rights over these resources. This decision shifted the balance of power of utilizing bio-resources from the user-countries to the provider-countries. The message that the use of genetic resources should not bypass the provider-countries went a long way in correcting the historical injustice that these nations have suffered for centuries.
The BD act, which became operational after the adoption of the Biological Diversity Rules in 2004, lists the conditions under which persons, commercial firms, and other institutions can access the biological resources present within India and the knowledge associated with the biological resource, either for research or bio-survey or commercial utilization or bio-utilization.
The act, in combination with various other policies and laws, such as the National Biodiversity Action Plan, National Forest Policy, National Wildlife Action Plan, National Forestry Action Programme, National Environment Policy, National Action Plan on Climate Change, is being continuously strengthened to protect, conserve and sustainably use the country’s bio-resources.
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The act assumes significance as it imposed prohibitions on the transfer of genetic material originating from India without specific approval from competent authorities. The act also strengthened the country’s stand with respect to anyone claiming an intellectual property right over biodiversity-related knowledge.
Adopting Access and Benefit Sharing Mechanism
With the adoption of the Biological Diversity Act in India, the focus shifted on actualizing the tenets of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Internationally, too, it was felt that an efficient mechanism needs to be adopted that is acceptable to all countries and becomes a reference point for all bioresources related issues.
Thus, for a process that began in 1992 with the Convention on Biological Diversity, the detailed action points were adopted under the Nagoya Protocol in 2010 which focusses on the equity provision of the Convention on Biological Diversity, especially on the access to genetic resources and the fair & equitable utilization sharing of benefits.
Almost immediately, countries began the process of implementing national legislation to adopt the regulatory frameworks and India again took a lead and adopted the Access and Benefit Sharing guidelines in 2014.
India’s stand, leading up to the negotiations that finally led to the adoption of the Nagoya Protocol, was that of intense negotiations. The then Minister of State (Independent Charge), MoEF&CC, Shri Prakash Javadekar said “India has been a victim of misappropriation or biopiracy of our genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, many of which have been patented in other countries (well-known examples include Neem and Haldi). It is expected that the Nagoya Protocol on ABS, would address this concern.”
Currently, the BD Act has helped create three structures, namely National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) at the national level, State Biodiversity Boards (SBB) at the state level, and Biodiversity Management Committees (BMC) at the local level. These three bodies are statutory and autonomous in nature with the NBA and SBBs being body corporates. To ensure that independent autonomy exists, there is no overlap of NBA and SBBs on issues of Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS).
The BMC is a powerful statutory body which is an integral part of the legislative system set up by the BD Act. BMCs are being constituted at various local levels throughout the country. Still, in its initial stages of formation, the functioning of BMCs has been plagued with a lack of interest in implementation agencies, lack of clarity amongst beneficiaries, and the apprehension that BMCs would usurp some powers of the existing local bodies. BMCs still have a long road to traverse before they can shed their tag of a data collection agency. Hopefully, in the future, BMCs would be able to assert their authority as constitutionally mandated statutory bodies and play a vital role in protecting the biodiversity of the land while sharing benefits with the stakeholders.
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 Press Information Bureau, July 2014, India facilitates entry into force of Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing. New Delhi, Government of India, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change
 Research and Information System for Developing Countries, National Study on ABS implementation in India, New Delhi, ABS Capacity Development Initiative