Open secret

Were medicinal plants exported without government permission?

Published: Friday 31 December 1999

 Medicinal plants from Kerala< (Credit: Rakesh Agarwal / CSE)the Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute (tbgri), a Thiruvananthapuram-based autonomous research organisation under the department of science and technology, has exported medicinal plants to biotech firms in Singapore and Denmark without the prior consent of the Union government. This export was despite the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (cbd) which confers sovereign state right over biodiversity and a draft national law banning such exports without the Centre's consent.

According to the Financial Express , tbgri has exported 1,000 samples of extracts from 400 species of medicinal plants to the Singapore-based Centre for Natural Products Research (cnpr). Further, the institute's annual report says, between 1992 to 94, thirty-nine species of medicinal plants were sent to Denmark.

Under the draft agreement, which was formulated by cnpr director Miranda G S Yap the transnational drug company holds the first right to commercial products developed from the plants. In the negotiations that followed with tbgri, it allows cnpr to offer such products to a 'third party'. The 'third party', in this case, is Glaxo Wellcome, one of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies. However, some senior scientists at tbgri allege that the institute's executive committee was not fully informed of this aspect of the deal. The Indian Biodiversity Forum comprising experts from the field of biotechnology has demanded legal action under the cbd to retrieve the plant extracts.

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