In safe territory

The Centre gets absolute authority over the country's rich biodiversity under an MEF draft

Published: Saturday 15 February 1997

the ministry of environment and forests (mef) has finally drafted a set of "terms and conditions for granting access to genetic material". The move will lead to a much-needed legislation for regulating access to the country's genetic resources. "It will be in the form of a public notification and is targeted mainly at international research institutes and botanical gardens who use our plant varieties as raw materials in their laboratories," reveals Amarjeet Ahuja, joint secretary in charge of the biodiversity cell in the ministry.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (cbd) -- a global treaty forged to protect the planet's genetic resources -- rules that nations have sovereign rights over natural resources found within their boundaries. But to make effective use of this "right", countries which are party to cbd must have a law in place to prevent an intruder from trespassing.

The mef draft notification gives absolute authority to the Government of India over the nation's biological resources. It states that all accessors, at home or abroad, will have to take the government's permission if they wish to "undertake any research publication" on the material collected. They must also seek the approval of the mef if they want to share this material with someone else. They will have to enter into a separate agreement with the government if they want to commercialise "genetic material or product or research derived from it". This agreement will contain provisions for a share in the benefits accruing from such a deal. Ahuja is toying with the idea of forming an interdisciplinary body which can act on behalf of the government in making such decisions.

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