Karnataka High Court issues notice to National Biodiversity Authority on charges of paving way for biopiracy

Petition by a non-profit accuses authority of callousness towards protecting the country's biodiversity

By Jyotika Sood
Published: Thursday 22 November 2012

The principal bench of Karnataka High Court has issued a notice to the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) following a public interest petition accusing the authority of callousness towards protecting the country's biodiversity.

The petition filed by Bengaluru-based charitable trust Environment Support Group (ESG) draws the court’s attention towards the reports submitted by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and the Parliament Committee on Agriculture and Public Accounts. The reports have pointed out the colossal failure of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and the NBA in protecting the country's biodiversity.

The petitioner, Sunil Dutt Yadav, who is also advocate for ESG, states that the MoEF in its October 26, 2009, notification had listed 190 plants as Normally Traded Commodities (NTC) and it includes at least 18 critically endangered plants. “While hundreds of community and regional initiatives are desperately trying to protect such plants, the MoEF notification callously promotes their unfettered international trade thus driving them potentially into extinction.”

Unfettered trade in endangered plants

The petitioners claim that the main beneficiaries of such trade are Indian and foreign corporations and very little benefit is accrued to the national exchequer or to the communities conserving this biodiversity. They also argue that Section 40 of the National Biodiversity Act of 2002, which allows such unfettered trade in India's biological wealth, also paves way for rampant biopiracy and petitioners call for quashing of this section as being ultra vires of the Act and the Constitution of India.
The petition also draws attention towards India’s first biopiracy case  and has accused the government for failing to initiate action against Indian company Mahyco and various public agricultural universities involved in promoting Bt Brinjal by using local varieties of brinjal (egg plant). It states that even more than a year after Indian environment minister Jayanti Natarajan assured the Parliament that violators would be criminally prosecuted, no legal action has followed till date. They claimed that this failure by regulatory authorities has also been strongly criticised by the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture in its August 2012 report on “Cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops – Prospects and Effects” which has called for “....a thorough inquiry in the matter of continued paralysis in decision making on a case of this dimension”.

They have sought court’s directions on environment, social and bio-diversity impact assessments based on meaningful compliance with the Principle of Prior and Informed Consent being made mandatory for all decisions impacting biodiversity, associated traditional knowledge and livelihoods. They also call for quashing of the ministry's notification on NTC as being illegal and urge the court to direct the ministry to institute appropriate structures, procedures and norms to protect India's biodiversity in strict conformance with the Biological Diversity Act of 2002, Panchayat Raj Act of 1992 and Nagarpalika Act of 1992 and Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006 and Environment Protection Act of 1986, among others.

The bench headed by Chief Justice Vikramjit Sen has listed the matter for further consideration in the last week of January 2013.


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