Lok Sabha on Tuesday approved the Biodiversity (Amendment) Bill, 2023 by a voice vote amid din from opposition parties over the violence in Manipur. The Bill proposes changes to the Biological Diversity Act of 2002, including decriminalizing biodiversity offences.
The Bill aims to promote 'Ease of Doing Business'
Critics of the Bill argued that it favors 'ease of doing business', codifying traditional knowledge and allowing users of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH) practitioners to share benefits with local communities gives a discount.
Union Minister for Forest, Environment and Climate Change, Bhupendra Yadav spoke about the significance of the Bill in the Lok Sabha on July 25, stressing on the global crisis of climate change, desertification and loss of biological resources. He underlined that the aim of the amendment is to promote 'Ease of Doing Business' in India by decriminalizing offenses and providing a way to lead an easier life.
Amendment in Biological Diversity Act, 2002
The proposed amendment seeks to replace the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, which was designed to conserve India's biological diversity and ensure its sustainable use. It also aims to provide for fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of biodiversity.
However, the Bill raised concerns over the amendments' industrial bias and conflict with the spirit of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Hence, the bill was taken to a joint committee just four days after Yadav introduced it in Parliament on December 16, 2021.
Expert opinion and concerns
Experts argue that the bill promotes a favorable investment climate and simplifies the patent application process, thereby separating India's agriculture and environment sectors. Concerns have also been raised that the bill exempts users of codified traditional knowledge and AYUSH practitioners from sharing benefits with local communities.
In response to criticism, the bill was reviewed by a Joint Parliamentary Committee headed by Sanjay Jaiswal. The report of the committee, tabled in Parliament on August 2 last year, recommended the passage of the Bill with certain findings.
Highlights of the amendment
According to the amendment, any research result on any biological resource or related traditional knowledge found or acquired or obtained in India, without the prior written approval of the National Biodiversity Authority, for monetary consideration or otherwise be shared or transferred Can't be done. The exception is codified traditional knowledge that is exclusive to Indians.
Further, the Bill aligns the definition of foreign company with the Companies Act, 2013, to ensure that companies are covered under the regulatory framework of the NBA for commercial use and obtaining patents.
Additionally, it allows domestic companies to use biodiversity without permission from the Biodiversity Board. As per the amendments, only foreign-controlled companies would require permission.
Implications and Reactions
The amendments also include the term "codified traditional knowledge", which exempts users, including practitioners of Indian systems of medicine, from approval of access or profit sharing, meaning that profiteering domestic companies do not have to share profits.
One of the contentious points in the Bill is the proposal to decriminalize violations and take away the NBA's power to register FIRs against the defaulting party. Instead, the Act proposes penalties ranging from Rs. 100,000 to Rs. 5 million, with continued violations potentially attracting an additional fine of up to Rs. 1 crore.
The amendment has faced backlash from activists and legal experts, as it does not adequately address the conservation issues facing India's biodiversity. Critics argue that the penalty structure may be too lenient, allowing violators to get away with minor fines. However, the committee recommends that the penalty should be proportionate to the profit earned by the entities and the size of the company.