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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 30-31, July 22 & July 29 2023

Why Say No to Biodiversity and Forest Act Bills? | Soma Marla

Saturday 22 July 2023, by Soma S. Marla


On Tuesday [25 July 2023] in the current session of Parliament Union Minister for Environment and forests introduced the Biodiversity bill amidst the opposition’s sloganeering on the Manipur issue. The content of the proposed both bills on Biodiversity and Forests dilutes conservation efforts of biodiversity and protected ( including range) forests listed in Biological Diversity Act, 2002 and the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. New amendments will directly harm the interests of forest ecology, the rights of forest tribal population, and endanger the conservation of medicinal wild plants and animals. The bills are intended to benefit mining, pharmaceutical, real estate, and other corporate groups at the expense of the environment and forest people’s rights.

Conservation of Green cover and protection of biodiversity holds vital importance in the present paradigm of climate change. Dilution of provisions to conserve forest cover and Biodiversity in the proposed two bills and resulting listed in deforestation runs against the context of carbon sink, Greenhouse gas emissions and the environment as pledged by our PM last year in world environment summit. These commitments of the government would get compromised through the implementation regime that would come up due to the proposed Bill.

Today Plant Genetic Resources (PGRs) are being lost at a rapid rate due to biopiracy, climate change and various other reasons. India is very rich in biodiversity and the birthplace of Tulsi (sanctum Ocimum), Neem, Turmeric and many other medicinal and crop species. Tribal people and traditional farmers are the age old natural custodians of PGRs in forests and in their fields. Both the proposed two bills on Biodiversity and Forests are intended to evict tribals, true custodians from forests to give direct access to mining, pharma and other corporations. The present Forest bill 2023 directly negates the FOREST RIGHTS ACT 2006, enacted by the previous UPA government. Forest Rights Act was passed I after a long-standing struggle by tribal people to secure their legitimate forest rights.

The Biological Diversity Act, 2002 was enacted for the conservation of biological diversity and fair, equitable sharing of the monetary benefits arising from the commercial use of biological resources and traditional knowledge. The Act safeguards from biopiracy and protects biological diversity and traditional custodians through a three-tier central and state National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) and Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) in local bodies. The NBA will have the power of a civil court. Plant Genetic Resources (PGR) referred as germplasm, are any genetic material of plant orign such as seeds, plants, tissue, cells, and pollen including DNA molecules with potential use in crop improvement and the pharma industry. The proposed Biodiversity bill 2023 also wants to liberalise present Patent regulations so as to benefit indigenous pharmaceutical companies (like Patanjali of Baba Ramdev) and foreign pharma MNCs.

India during the last two decades have had enough experience fighting lengthy legal battles internationally against violating Indian laws and patenting Neem, Turmeric or Basmathi rice to name.In 2016, the Uttarakhand Biodiversity Board served a notice to Divya Phamacy, with links to Mr. Ramdev Baba, in violation of the Biodiversity Act for using biological resources from the state for it’s ayurvedic formulations, without informing the board and evading benefit sharing fees. When the firm challenged against the notice in the Uttarakhand High court, the Court in it’s 2018 verdict upheld the powers of State Biodiversity Board.

The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, and Biodiversity Bill 2023 are being presented in the current session of Parliament ignoring the recommendations made by various stakeholders in course of consultations (The author of this article attended and presented his objections before the Parliamentary Standing Committee in March 2022) which has been examined by a joint parliamentary committee, dilutes some clauses of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. It is contemplating exempting lands that were recorded as forests, but not notified, before the enactment of the Act in 1980. This is bound to lead to deforestation in the forests that are not a part of the notified forests. Similarly, various Tribal rights groups represented their concerns were too ignored by Union Minister for Forests and Environment before introducing the bills on 25th July in the parliament.

The recent flashfloods in north India, especially in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand remind us that forest resources of the country are important for national security and for realizing sustainable development. Therefore, notification of forests for non-forest use is an instance of policy failure. The government needs to think about the action plan for sustainable management of forests and their ecosystem.

Hence, the government should withdraw new provisions that damage the interests of Forest conservation and the legitimate rights of tribal people and send the bills back to the Joint Parliamentary Committee for a thorough examination.

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