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The Legal Safeguards for Conservation

The landmark Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was introduced at the Rio Earth Summit on June 5th, 1992. The CBD is a framework agreement, i.e., the emphasis is to place the decision making at the levels of national governments without handing down any targets or goals. The CBD has 3 tenets

  1. Conservation of Biodiversity
  2. Sustainable use of its components
  3. Fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use

Apart from conservation aspects, there are two particular articles of the CBD that are pioneering

  1. Article 8 which discusses the preservation and promotion of traditional knowledge
  2. Article 15 which deals with access to genetic resources and also the fair and equitable sharing of benefits i.e, Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS)

India’s response

The Biodiversity Act (2002) and Biodiversity Rules (2004) were developed along the principles of the CBD. In addition, India has also developed a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) in line with Article 6 of CBD.

The Biodiversity Act provides for the establishment of a three tier system – The National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), State Biodiversity Boards and Biodiversity Management Committees (BMC) – and provides them with wide ranging powers.

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With regard to ABS,

  1. All foreign nationals or organizations are required to obtain approval from the NBA
  2. Prior approval is needed before applying for IPR if the biological material has been sourced from India
  3. State Boards need to obtain approval of the BMCs before granting access
  4. State Boards can regulate access to ensure sustainable harvest

The Biodiversity Management Committees (BMC)

The Act provides for BMCs to be set up at the level of Panchayats. The main function of the BMC is to prepare the Peoples Biodiversity Register (PBR) to document current biodiversity of the area and also to chronicle traditional knowledge systems. The intention is that the PBR be developed through a consultative process and that it should be a comprehensive source of all biodiversity data in that area.  PBRs from around the country would ultimately be complied in the Indian Biodiversity Information System (IBIS).

The Implementation

Even from the overview given above, it is evident that both the CBD and the Biodiversity Act seek to provide wide ranging powers to the people when it comes to having a say in conservation. In particular, they recognise the traditional rights of the local communities. However, while the Biodiversity Act looks great on paper, we need to look at whether it really has been used to its full potential.

As per the Act, the NBA needs to consult the BMC before granting research access in that area. The BMC is also permitted to levy charges and establish a Local Biodiversity Fund. Needless to say, the implementation of these on ground remains limited.

While there may be other practical problems associated with the implementation, the more dominant reason is that the BMCs are not empowered enough to take on these tasks. This calls for the need for capacity building of the local communities, especially those in ecologically-sensitive areas.

This leads to a bigger question – is India as a Nation, Country and/or State ready to really empower local communities to a level as envisaged by these Acts? Do let us know what you think !

– Anjana Vencatesan, Volunteer

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