Biopiracy bid?

Study on catfish opposed

By Vikas Parashar
Published: Saturday 15 May 2004

is this another intellectual property rights (iprs) wrangle? Environmentalists recently alerted the Indian authorities to a us-sponsored scientific mission meant to survey and collect catfish species in Kerala and the Northeast. They alleged that the study was being undertaken without the Union government's permission.

M K Prasad of Karala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, a non-governmental organisation working in the sectors of science and environment, has lodged a complaint in this regard with the Union minister of state for environment and forests, Ramesh Bais. He informed Bais in a letter that two us-based researchers, Lawrence M Page and Robin Abell, will be visiting India to work on a Catfish Inventory Programme funded by the us' National Science Foundation. "This effort of unauthorised collection amounts to biopiracy and should be stopped forthwith," emphasises Prasad.

According to the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, foreigners have to seek the permission of the National Biodiversity Authority to obtain any biological resource occurring in India or knowledge associated with it for research, commercial utilisation, bio-survey and bio-utilisation. "We must ensure that in the name of scientific sharing, we do not surrender our intellectual property rights in respect of our precious flora and fauna. Our previous experience with turmeric and basmati has shown how difficult it is to retrieve our rights once foreign agencies stake their claim," warns Prasad. V S Vijayan, director, Salim Ali Centre of Ornithology and Natural History, Coimbatore, has also intimated the southern regional office of the Union ministry of environment and forests (moef) about the us scientists' tour.

Prasad maintains that the us study is authorised neither by the moef, nor the Zoological Survey of India (zsi), or even the concerned state government. The zsi had, in fact, refused permission because the species it targets are endemic to the Western Ghats and Northeastern states, he discloses, adding that some are even endangered. "Out of the 49 species of catfish reported from India so far, 32 are endemic to the Western Ghats. One of the most critically endangered species of the region is Horaglanis krishnai, a blind catfish which has been reported only from the wells of Kottayam district of Kerala," he reveals. But J R F Alfred, director, zsi, Kolkata, said he was unaware of the matter.

For its part, the Kerala forest department has assured environmentalists that it would monitor any attempt to collect fish species from the state.

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