Biodiversity conservation is crucial for maintaining ecological balance, preserving ecosystems, and ensuring sustainable development in India. With its diverse flora and fauna, India is home to a rich variety of species and ecosystems that play a vital role in supporting livelihoods, agriculture, and cultural heritage. Protecting biodiversity helps mitigate the impacts of climate change, promotes resilience against environmental threats, and fosters the well-being of present and future generations. 

The Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2023, seeks to modify the existing Biological Diversity Act of 2002, aiming to address contemporary challenges while ensuring the sustainable use of biological resources. It introduces amendments to streamline processes, encourage medicinal plant cultivation, and simplify regulatory requirements for accessing biodiversity resources. These amendments aim to strike a balance between conservation efforts and facilitating economic activities related to biodiversity. The bill’s introduction reflects India’s commitment to biodiversity conservation and its recognition of the evolving needs in this field.

Biological Diversity Act, 2002 – A Background

The Biological Diversity Act, 2002, was enacted to address India’s commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Its primary objectives include the conservation of biological diversity, sustainable utilisation of its components, and ensuring fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilisation of biological resources and associated traditional knowledge.

The Act establishes a decentralised three-tiered mechanism for biodiversity management, comprising the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) at the national level, State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) at the state level, and Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) at the local level. This hierarchical structure ensures effective coordination and management of biodiversity conservation efforts across different administrative levels.

The NBA and SBBs play pivotal roles in implementing the provisions of the Biological Diversity Act. The NBA acts as the apex body responsible for formulating policies, guidelines, and mechanisms for biodiversity conservation and equitable benefit-sharing. SBBs, on the other hand, facilitate biodiversity management at the state level by formulating strategies, granting approvals, and promoting awareness among stakeholders.

Fair and equitable benefit-sharing is a cornerstone of the Biological Diversity Act, ensuring that local communities, indigenous peoples, and traditional knowledge holders receive just compensation for their contributions to biodiversity conservation and sustainable utilisation of biological resources. This principle fosters inclusivity, social equity, and environmental justice, promoting collaborative efforts towards biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.

Introduction of the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2023

The Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2023, introduces significant changes to the existing Biological Diversity Act, 2002. These amendments aim to streamline regulations, promote ease of doing business, and address concerns raised by various stakeholders, including practitioners of Indian systems of medicine and the industry sector. The amendments cover aspects such as the decriminalisation of certain offences, the exemption of AYUSH practitioners from benefit-sharing requirements, and the facilitation of collaborative research and investments in biodiversity-related activities.

The proposed amendments initially sparked concerns and criticisms from environmentalists, legal experts, and activists. Critics argued that the amendments could undermine biodiversity conservation efforts, favour industry interests over environmental protection, and weaken the framework for fair and equitable benefit-sharing with local communities. There were apprehensions that the amendments might dilute the core objectives of the Biological Diversity Act and compromise India’s commitments under international conventions such as the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The primary purpose of amending the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, is to address the evolving needs and challenges in biodiversity conservation and utilisation. By revising certain provisions, the amendments aim to create a conducive environment for research, innovation, and investment in biodiversity-related activities while ensuring compliance with international agreements and protocols.

Key Amendments in the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2023

The Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2023, aims to encourage the cultivation of medicinal plants by reducing the regulatory burden on practitioners and companies involved in the Indian systems of medicine, such as Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy (AYUSH). This amendment intends to promote the sustainable utilisation of medicinal plants and traditional knowledge associated with Indian healthcare systems.

The bill seeks to simplify the patent application process for biological resources and associated traditional knowledge. By streamlining administrative procedures and reducing compliance burdens, the amendments aim to facilitate collaborative research and attract investments in biodiversity-related activities. This provision is designed to foster innovation and promote the commercialisation of biotechnological inventions while ensuring compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.

One of the significant amendments proposed in the bill is the exemption of certain users, including practitioners of Indian systems of medicine, from the requirement of sharing benefits with local communities. While this exemption aims to promote research and development in the field of traditional medicine, it has raised concerns about equitable benefit-sharing and the protection of indigenous knowledge holders’ rights. Critics argue that this provision could potentially undermine the principles of fairness and inclusivity embedded in the Biological Diversity Act.

The amendments align the definition of foreign-controlled companies with existing laws, such as the Companies Act, 2013, to regulate their access to biological resources. By clarifying the regulatory framework for foreign-controlled entities, the amendments aim to ensure compliance with international agreements, such as the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-Sharing. This alignment seeks to strengthen oversight mechanisms and prevent the exploitation of biological resources by foreign entities without compromising national interests or sovereignty.

Overall, these key amendments reflect the government’s efforts to strike a balance between promoting economic development, encouraging innovation, and safeguarding biodiversity conservation and traditional knowledge. However, the implications of these amendments on biodiversity conservation and equitable benefit-sharing remain subject to scrutiny and debate within legal and environmental circles.

Legislative Process and Criticisms

The Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2023, was introduced in Parliament on December 16, 2021, by Union Minister Bhupender Yadav. Due to concerns raised regarding the amendments favouring industry interests and potentially contradicting the spirit of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the bill was referred to a joint committee for further examination and review.

Various stakeholders, including activists, legal experts, and environmental organisations, expressed concerns regarding the potential implications of the proposed amendments. Critics argued that the amendments could prioritise commercial interests over biodiversity conservation and equitable benefit-sharing. Additionally, there were apprehensions about the exemption of certain users from sharing benefits with local communities, which could lead to the exploitation of traditional knowledge holders and undermine biodiversity conservation efforts.

Following extensive deliberations and consultations, the joint committee submitted its report to Parliament on August 2, 2022. The committee recommended certain amendments to address the concerns raised by stakeholders. These amendments aimed to strike a balance between promoting economic development and ensuring the sustainable conservation of India’s biodiversity. However, despite the modifications, the bill continued to face criticism from various quarters, particularly regarding the decriminalisation of certain provisions and the exemption of specific users from benefit-sharing obligations.

Analysis of Controversial Provisions

One of the contentious aspects of the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2023, is the decriminalisation of offences under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. The bill proposes to replace criminal penalties with monetary fines, thereby reducing the severity of consequences for violations related to biodiversity conservation and benefit-sharing. Critics argue that decriminalisation may weaken enforcement mechanisms and fail to deter illegal activities effectively.

The proposed penalty structure in the bill raises concerns about its adequacy in deterring violators, particularly given the disparity in penalties based on the size of the company and the gains obtained. While the bill outlines monetary fines ranging from INR 100,000 to INR 5 million, continuing violations could attract additional penalties of up to INR 1 crore. However, the adequacy of these penalties in proportion to the gains obtained by entities remains a subject of debate.

Environmentalists and conservationists have voiced concerns about the potential exploitation of biodiversity resources under the amended provisions. The exemption of certain users, including practitioners of Indian systems of medicine, from benefit-sharing obligations raises apprehensions about the equitable distribution of benefits among local communities and traditional knowledge holders. Furthermore, the alignment of definitions with existing laws to regulate access by foreign-controlled companies has led to concerns about the unchecked exploitation of India’s biodiversity.

Implications for Biodiversity Conservation

The Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2023, highlights the challenge of balancing economic development with biodiversity conservation. While the amendments aim to promote ease of doing business and facilitate investments, there is a pressing need to ensure that these efforts align with sustainable conservation practices to safeguard India’s rich biodiversity.

Transparent decision-making processes are essential for ensuring accountability and fostering public trust in biodiversity conservation initiatives. The inclusion of diverse stakeholders in decision-making forums can enhance the legitimacy of policies and promote informed decision-making that considers the interests of all stakeholders.

Meaningful stakeholder engagement and inclusive consultations are vital for fostering a collaborative approach to biodiversity conservation. By actively involving local communities, indigenous groups, conservationists, scientists, industry representatives, and policymakers, we can harness collective wisdom and diverse perspectives to develop effective strategies for biodiversity conservation.

As India navigates the complexities of biodiversity conservation, there is a pressing need for concerted efforts to promote sustainable practices, enhance stakeholder engagement, and uphold the principles of equity and justice. By prioritising biodiversity conservation, we can safeguard our natural heritage for future generations and foster a harmonious relationship between humans and the environment.

Dipanjana Chakraborty

Patent Attorney

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