Biodiversity Amendments Will Further Isolate India’s Agri, Environment Ministries – The Wire Science

A farmer gazes at his field in Anad, Kerala, June 2018. Photo: Nandhu Kumar/Unsplash

  • The proposed Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill 2021 encourages a conducive environment for investments and to simplify the patent application process.
  • Farmers in India have historically been against any kind of IP rights – whether patents of plant variety protection or seed and planting materials.
  • In a confused mix of laws, the government also grants IP rights to BMCs for farmers’ varieties – formed under the Biological Diversity Act – under the PPV&FR Act.
  • Yet the 2021 Bill implies that the National Biodiversity Authority can’t provide any terms or conditions for sustainable use, biodiversity conservation or benefit-sharing on a PVP-holder registered under the PPV&FR Act.

The Union environment minister Bhupender Yadav proposed a Bill on December 9, 2021, to amend the Biological Diversity Act 2002.

The Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill 2021 is currently before a Joint Parliamentary Committee that was constituted on December 20, 2021. The committee held nine sittings from January to April 2022. Its next sitting is scheduled to happen on May 12, 2022, where it is is expected to hear oral evidence from the biodiversity management committees (BMCs) of select states.

According to the existing Biological Diversity Act, it is mandatory for local bodies – panchayats, municipalities, etc. – to create BMCs. And according to data from the National Biodiversity Authority, there were 2.76 lakh BMCs across the country as of April 22, 2022.

Under the three-tier system of the Biological Diversity Act, the BMCs are closest to the ground. They are composed of small farmers, livestock keepers, fisher folk and tribal people – to the tune of seven individuals per committee.

Section 41(2) of the Act stipulates that BMCs are intended to be spaces where local communities deliberate on the use of bioresources and associated knowledge within the committee’s territorial jurisdiction. The National Biodiversity Authority and State Biodiversity Boards are required to consult with BMCs before making decisions of their own.

As custodians of the local biodiversity and possessors of the associated knowledge, these local communities are also regarded as the rightful claims of benefits under the law when companies commercialize their bioresources and/or knowledge.

The proposed Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill 2021 reveals its biases in the context of rights. Specifically, it explicitly seeks to encourage a conducive environment for collaborative research and investments and to simplify the patent application process. The mention of ‘patents’ in the Bill is not benign.

In July 2021, a Parliamentary Standing Committee undertook a review of India’s IP rights regime. Here, only three officials representing the agriculture sector gave evidence, and asked the government to reconsider patents on seeds.

This goes against the more progressive position that India has maintained at the World Trade Organization – insisting that the Patents Act 1970 (which excludes seeds from patentability) and the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act (PPV&FR Act) 2001, both comply with the body’s TRIPS agreement.

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