ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Access to India's Biodiversity and Sharing Its Benefits

The Biological Diversity Act, 2002 is meant to fulfil the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity, to which India became a party in 1994. In its 10-year history, a key issue that has dominated the implementation of the act is access to bio resources and sharing its benefits. The government's new guidelines on access and benefit sharing notified in 2014 have only marginally added to what the act and its rules lay down. In addition, neither the intended beneficiaries nor readers of the document get much hint of the thought process behind the exercise.

The International Day for Biological Diversity is observed the world over on 22 May. It is the day the United Nations (UN) has chosen to commemorate the adoption of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1992. The CBD essentially gathers the myriad concerns related to biological resources into three key objectives—conservation of biodiversity; sustainable use of its components; and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources (whether plant, animal or microorganisms). This international law came into force on 29 December 1993 after 30 countries ratified it. Today, the CBD has 196 members, including India, which became a party to it from 1994.

To fulfil the three CBD objectives, Parliament passed the Biological Diversity (BD) Act in 2002. In 2004, the government issued the BD Rules for implementation. While the law was rolled out, many concerns remained. These ranged from the legal status of genetic resources, lack of clarity on commonly held resources and knowledge, and the efficacy of domestic legislation to counter “biopiracy” to an overemphasis on access to genetic resources in the regulatory framework (Kohli 2006; Sahai 1998; Kothari 1994). Biodiversity-rich countries such as India are required by the CBD to facilitate access to their genetic resources by non-Indians, though that is not the sole objective of the CBD. In addition, technology-rich countries are also required to provide access to technology.

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