Tribal rights to the fore

The veryfirst scheme to recognise the intellectual property rights of the Kani tribals in Kerala, ran into rough weather, only to bounce back into action

By Joseph Antony
Published: Sunday 31 December 1995

Tradition teachers: Kuttimatha (Credit: Joseph Antony)A MEMORANDUM of Understanding (Mou) between the Tropical Botanical Gardens and Research Institute (TBGRI) and two private companies, the Madras-based Velvette International Pharma Products and Arya Vaidya Pharmacy of Coimbatore, to be signed on July 22, was stalled recently. Last minute political maneouverings from certain sections forced the state government to halt the projects. The mou was an unique attempt to recognise the Intellectual Property Rights (1PR) of the tribals in Kerala.

The pacts included agreements for transferring the mass production technology of a herbal health care kit consisting of 14 drugs including a drug calledIJeevani'. But in a recent development, after ascertaining that the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research guidelines on technology transfer had been adhered to by the TBGRI, the chief minister of Kerala unconditionally cleared the projects, on October 22.

This will enable the Institute to con- tinue its efforts to recognise the IPR of the tribals, a long neglected issue. "It is perhaps for the first time in the country that the IPR of the Tribes are recognised", said P Pushpangadan, director, TBGRI. The due share from the commercial exploitation of'Jeevani', produced by Arya Vaidya Pharmacy based on the rare plant Arogyappacha (Tricophus zelyanicus), will be handed over to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC & ST) Welfare Department, he added. TBGRI scientists learned about the medicinal properties of Arogyappacha from the Kani tribe inhabiting the southwestern part of the Western Ghats in Kerala, way back in 1987.

'Jeevani' is a restorative, immunoenhancing, anti-stress and anti-fatigue agent, useful during convalescence and to reduce exhaustion, fatigue, weakness and mental stress.

It is believed that the pact was stalled in the eleventh hour by the state admin istration following interference from the Opposition leader, V S Achuth nanthan, regarding reconsideration of the terms of the agreement. He alleg that the licence fee and royalty of t herbal drugs were very low. Besid allegations raised by some top officials that the pact with the private compani would cause exploitation of the tribals, made the government backtrack.

This controversy highlights politic A lobbying which exists even among sci entists. For, it was revealed that anothe section of scientists were trying to devel it op a drug from Arogyappacha, bu failed. Therefore, they evidently tried t sabotage the unique project, feel TBGR: scientists.

Kuttimathan Kani, 30, and Mallan Kani, 42, from Chonnampara tribal set tlement, had originally revealed t secrets ofArogyappacha to the scienti in 1987. Owing to the dismal record oi the sc & ST Welfare Departmen through which the money from t commercial exploitation of 'Jeeva would reach the tribals, many triba fear that the effort may just end up as neglected file languishing in government offices.

The TBGRI- envisages a project for creased cultivation of Arogyappacha the Kanis in the Agastya Valley. Now, "Spbout 50 tribal families are engaged in AroVappacha cultivation. The new pro . targets about 1,000 families working 4W W_ under the scheme, and plans to increase wi.ihe cultivation area from 20.25 ha to 725 ha in tribal holdings.

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