Reason to celebrate?

The biodiversity bill has finally been approved by the Parliament standing committee on science, technology and the environment. But is the way clear for its passage?

Published: Monday 31 December 2001

The biodiversity bill has finally been approved by the Parliament standing committee on science, technology and the environment. The last time the bill made it to Parliament in May 2000, it was referred to the parliament standing committee for further deliberations.

Having a national biodiversity became essential after India signed the Convention on Biological Diversity (cbd) in June 1992 -- a global treaty to protect the planet's genetic resources of microbes, plants and animals. The treaty recognises that biodiversity is a sovereign resource that needs to be sustainably utilised and that the benefits arising out of the use of community's traditional knowledge be shared with the community. As a party to cbd, India is obliged to come up with a national legislation if at all its sovereign rights over biodiversity are to be recognised. According to the bill, a National Biodiversity Authority will be set up to regulate activities and sustainable use of biodiversity and issue guidelines for access and equitable benefit sharing.

One of the significant comments of the standing commit tee on the bill has been to ensure that the centre has control. The centre wants the authority to direct states if it feels that the biodiversity in the state is being threatened by 'overuse' and 'neglect'. With the centre not being willing even to hand over power to the states, how can it be expected to hand over benefits to poor communities? Bureaucrats have also found involving communities and handing over what is rightfully theirs a big problem. While bureaucrats cite definition of a 'community' as a main hurdle to share benefits, surely the problem is not unsurmountable.

The bill has certainly been drafted to death. It has been seven years now since India has ratified the cbd and four years since the first form of the bill has been drafted. Though unimaginative, a bill on biodiversity is certainly welcome. It is important that the bill is passed and that the loopholes are plugged later. Conservation can only be ensured through utilisation and so 'utilitarian conservation' rather than 'protectionist conservation' should be the approach. To ensure that the benefits really reach the poor, it is important that the committees formed be as representative as possible and not end up being toothless to make the whole exercise meaningless.

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