Wildlife & Biodiversity

Is India’s biodiversity getting exploited without benefits to communities?

India’s biodiversity authority could put minds at ease by increasing transparency. Otherwise, the future of biodiversity remains grim in the country

By Vibha Varshney
Published: Monday 01 August 2022
Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock Photo: iStock

Data on the website of the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) shows that as much as 56.1 per cent of applications approved by the Authority under the access and benefit sharing regime since 2006 were between financial years 2020-2021 and 2021-2022. 

The high numbers of approvals is good as this indicates that access is regulated and the rights of the people have been upheld and future benefits are likely to be shared. But the increase is also an indicator that India’s biodiversity is in demand and unless strict rules are set, it could all be lost. 

Of the 1,987 approvals, 243 applications were for access to bioresources for research / commercial purposes and 1,686 were for obtaining intellectual property rights over them. Overall, the national body has granted 3,539 approvals for access since 2006. 

Such approvals are necessitated by the Biological Diversity Act 2002. The Authority was constituted to implement the Act in India. The Act has three major mandates:

  • Conservation of biodiversity
  • Sustainable use of biodiversity
  • A surety that the communities from where the biodiversity has been accessed get a share from the benefits earned from this biodiversity

India is also one of the early signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity 1992.

The increase in approvals comes at a time when there are clear indications that governance of biodiversity is in shambles in India. These approvals are immediately granted after the constitution of Biodiversity Management Committees (BMC) in the country as mandated by an order by the National Green Tribunal. 

A petition had pointed out that the country did not have the basic infrastructure at local level and the National Green Tribunal had ordered states to meet the targets by January 31, 2020.

On the ground and due to the pandemic, the BMCs were clueless on what they were supposed to do and in many cases, the community was not even aware that this committee existed even in 2022. 

The approvals by NBA also coincide with the proposal to amend the Biological Diversity Act 2002 by environment minister Bhupendra Yadav in December 2021.

These amendments were a bid to promote the businesses depending on biodiversity but due to criticism, the bill was transferred to a parliamentary committee. The committee is likely to submit its report in Parliament during this monsoon session. 

The NBA website does not provide details of what was approved for access. This information is hard to get as data available on the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Access and Benefit Sharing Clearing House  (ABSCH) database is limited too. 

ABSCH shows that as on July 29, out of the 3,999 Internationally Recognised Certificate of Compliance provided  by 25 countries, the maximum — a total of 2,872 — have been issued by India. Out of these, a total of 1,843 were issued between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2022. 

A snapshot suggests that 170 certificates were issued just in the month of March. These included 128 approvals involving plants, 25 involved animals, 34 involved fungi and microorganisms.

Of these, 46 were for purely commercial purposes while three were for both commercial and noncommercial purposes and 30 were solely for non-commercial purposes. 

During the peak pandemic period between April 1 and June 30 2021 — the second wave — India issued 167 certificates. 

India’s biodiversity authority could put minds at ease by increasing transparency. Otherwise, the future of biodiversity remains grim in the country.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.