US $50 million to protect biodiversity in India

Manmohan Singh says the challenge is to develop new models of inclusive conservation

By M Suchitra
Published: Tuesday 16 October 2012

PMIndia has committed US $50 million towards strengthening the institutional mechanism for biodiversity conservation in the country during its presidency of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). Called the Hyderabad Pledge, the amount was announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh while inaugurating a three-day, high-level ministerial segment of CBD on October 16. The funds will be used to enhance technical and human capabilities at the national and state-level mechanisms to attain the CBD objectives. 

The country has also earmarked funds to promote similar capacity building in developing countries. India formally took charge of the presidency of CBD from Japan for the next two years on October 8 at the inaugural of the eleventh meeting of the Conference of Parties (CoP 11) to CBD.

The Prime Minister said that India has recently ratified the Nagoya Protocol and formalised the country’s commitment to the Protocol and biodiversity conservation. “I would urge all the parties to do likewise because concerted global action is imperative and cannot brook any further delay. Despite global efforts, the 2010 biodiversity target that we had set for ourselves under the Convention was not fully met. This situation needs to change,” he added.

According to him, the critical issue is how to mobilise the necessary financial, technical and human resources, particularly the incubation, sharing and transfer of technology. “Despite having a much higher global awareness of environmental risks and concerns, it has become increasingly difficult to find common ground on environmental issues,” he noted. 

Efforts made by the country

During his speech, Singh pointed out several initiatives that the country has taken to conserve and protect biodiversity. He noted that India has tried a unique approach to protect traditional knowledge by establishing a Traditional Knowledge Digital Library.  “This database has 34 million pages of information in five international languages and formats, easily accessible by patent examiners. This library promotes the objectives of the Nagoya Protocol on the issue of protection of codified traditional knowledge systems,” he said. 
Singh said that India decided to build this knowledge database after the issue of patent on the use of neem extract in Europe and another on the use of turmeric as a healing agent came to light. “Since then, because of this database, over 1,000 cases of biopiracy have been identified and over 105 claims withdrawn or cancelled by patent offices,” he said. He added that multilateral agencies like WIPO and some countries have approached India for assistance in setting up such libraries since then.

Singh highlighted how India’s Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights’ Act confers intellectual property to farmers through registration of seed varieties. The country’s Patent Act, he said, has adopted disclosure requirements on the origin of inventions based on biodiversity.  “But I believe a lot more needs to be done. We need to build on this experience and build living germplasm laboratories in our fields,” he said.

The prime minister pointed out that ecosystem services form a much higher percentage of the “GDP of the poor” than of classical GDP calculations. “Biodiversity-based livelihood options form the basis of rural survival in many parts of the world, and living at the periphery of subsistence, the poor are the most at risk from biodiversity loss. They should not also be the ones to bear the cost of biodiversity conservation while the benefits are enjoyed by society at large,” he said.

According to Singh the challenge now is to develop new models of inclusive conservation. “India has legislated a Forest Rights Act that lends legal sanctity to the rights of forest dwellers.  We will have to adopt similarly innovative approaches to deal with the issue of protecting fishermen’s livelihoods even as we negotiate a framework on sustainable use of marine biodiversity in the high seas,” he added. 

Policies must change

A joint statement issued by 23 civil society groups and community-based organisations from India participating in the CBD accused the Prime Minister of doublespeak. India’s growth fetish and economic policies are leading to a massive attack on biodiversity and people’s rights, said the statement. “Policies of rapid industrialisation and urbanisation have caused damage to millions of acres of forests, wetlands, rivers, mountains, coasts, marine areas and grasslands, and to the lives, culture and livelihoods of  millions of people depending on such eco-systems. This attack has only intensified in the last two decades of globalisation, which was initiated in 1991 by Manmohan Singh when he was finance minister under the prime ministership of Narasimha Rao,” it added.

The organisations called for a fundamental change in course if India is to actually achieve the biodiversity goals. "This includes, respecting the knowledge and rights of local communities, ensuring decentralised decision-making of development and conservation activities, reorienting economic policies to put biodiversity and livelihood at the core, strengthening conservation measures against damaging activities and strictly complying with laws that guarantee community rights to natural resources while planning development projects,” said the statement.

The statement pointed out that the recent proposal of the finance minister to mandate the National Investment Board to override the Central ministries to clear development projects is alarming and objectionable.

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