Political Economy of Biodiversity Conservation
The winter session of the Parliament started with the withdrawal of the three farming laws that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised on the Guru Nanak Jayanti. That morning he has surprised many amog us with the announcment of the long awaited withdrawal of these controversial laws, however it has annoyed some of his ardent supporters. At last it has ensured the return of the agitating farmers from borders of the National Capital. Before the elections in states like UP and Punjab, these long protests has defined the United Farmers Front that brought millions of people from different places.
Right after their return home, the Environment Minister has placed the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill before the lower house. Bhupendra Yadav has introduced this new bill with a mention of the select committee, as if the govt. is all set to pass the bill with their majority in the house. It could have been more democratic to refer to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment, Forests & Climate Change. As such this is a kind of summon to villagers dedicated to preserve the biodiversities to launch yet another series of protests on the Delhi borders to save it from clutch of the corporate state. The former Union Minister for Environment and the Chairman of the said standing committee Jairam Ramesh has raised the strongest protest against it in his letter to the Speaker of the house.
The next week, the same minister produced the same bill before the upper house of Parliament, with a mention of the Joint Parliamentary Committee. Jairam Ramesh is also one of its members. Meanwhile the Environment Ministry promised to start public consultation on it within the timeframe. One can think after these two updates that the govt. is not going to supress the democratic process of discussion on this issue before its enactment with majority of the house. Since this law deals with villagers and forest dwellers considerably, it needs widespread support from various corners. Policy of exploitation of resources, instead of abusing the nature should be the guiding principle.
Almost a decade after the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, Atal Bihari Vajpayee govt. has introduced the Biological Diversity Act in 2002. The COP (Conference of Parties to the protocol) started as an annual ritual that focuses on the conservation of biodiversities. The amendments are required since the Nagoya Protocol came into existence during COP10 in Japan. It envisaged to ensure the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the genetic resources. It’s astonishing that dialogue about the biodiversity conservation has started in the USA, still they have never ratified to protocols. Moreover, Elizabeth Mrema, the secretary to the UN biodiversity convention is an African diplomat known to raise the conservation efforts for certain environmental programs.
The demand for amendments is in the public. Vaid and Hakim, and the other AYUSH practitioners, along with the seed, industry and research sectors have been raising it over the years. So far as the conservation of biodiversities are concerned these amendments can do more harm, than the good it claims. As such a number of the environmental protection groups are standing against it.
Uttarakhand Biodiversity Board had sent a notice to Divya Yoga Pharmacy in 2016 for violation of the law. Baba Ramdev’s team moved against it with a petition in the High Court. Requirement for NOC from the board, and to share a portion of the profit with the local people were contested there. After two years of hearing, the court ordered in favour of the board. Since then the demand to amend these laws are increasing, however, the High Court at Nainital observed that the board is legally empowered to regulate and decide the policy of dividend sharing. This is one of the crucial issues at centre of this debate.
The proposed law seems to dilute the powers of the BMC (Biodiversity Management Committee). These bodies were set up to coordinate between the village community and the state government. To delegate powers of committee to the board set up by State will be harmful for the indigenous communities. This is an effort to strengthen the doctors engaged in practicing the AYUSH system. They will be exempted from the condition of informing the board about the ingredients obtained from forests. It also aims to promote the cultivation of medicinal plants. The well-known lawyer Ritwik Dutta claims it to be against the spirit of bioiversity laws. As such he has opposed these amendments.
Profit-making ventures usually avoid the sharing of its profits. Lack of awareness among local people is yet another difficulty. In these conditions, the task of biodiversity conservation is not simple. The biodiversity boards are working in collaboration with the BMCs and the national agency, and the challenges are there to settle the crisis. Policy to promote the trade and commerce does not ensure the conservation of the biodiversities. The analysis of its political economy can reveal the fact that most of the elements of cultural identities are at stake. The genetic resources were easily accessible to the people of the village and the city before advent of modern civilization. The corporate state has turned that idea of exploitation to the abuse of Mother Nature. These two are the opposite point of views that can be helpful to understand the right and wrong in biodiversity conversation.
In this age of consumerism, the loss of biodiversity is a serious challenge that needs regulation. The Nagoya Protocol came into existence in October 2010 that advocates for the sharing the profits from the genetic resources with the people busy in its conservation. India has ratified to the protocol, in case of failure, it will be discussed in the villages and on global forums.
The farmers’ protest is a lesson to learn. The majority of ruling alliance cannot replace the parliamentary democratic process of the adjudication with the strategic democratic move. No one can match a village community in conservation of biodiversity. Similarly, the industry and trade sectors are experts so far as the manoeuvring of laws are concerned. It will be against the convictions of biodiversity laws to deprive a village community of the benefits derived from the nature. Moreover, this is equally unfair to ignore democratic values with the disrespect to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment, Forest & Climate Change. It can mobilise the public to launch the mass movement. The amendments to the biodiversity law are placed before the Joint Parliamentary Committee. One can hope that the lawmakers would remove all errors from this document before its implementation.
By Kaushal Kishore