Pesticides do not decipher caste, gender or nationality. They will kill anybody irrespective of his or her origins.
Read more >>

 

 

Is it possible for community video and radio to play this role?
Read more >>

 

 

WHOSE BIODIVERSITY AND KNOWLEDGE IS IT?

April 27, 2007

Over 3000 Gram Panchayats, Local Institutions and Community Representatives submit Resolutions to the PM demanding a community centric legislation on Biodiversity

Panchayats, Local Institutions and Community Representatives, and local institutions from the States of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and Meghalaya have submitted over 3000 Resolutions to the Prime Minister. They have expressed serious concern about the developments relating to India’s Biodiversity legislation, and in particular the Biodiversity Rules 2004 and the ongoing attempts by state governments to implement these. Though the Act itself describes the communities as “conserver and preservers” of biodiversity, the Rules delineating the provisions of the Act limit the power and function of the very same communities to only documentation of their resources and knowledge, with no legal provision to exercise control over what is documented.
India’s biodiversity is severely threatened; wildlife populations, traditional cultures, geological cycles, and a range of other attributes are being destroyed. There are a variety of reasons for this, including increasing exploitation of biological resources for trade both at national and international levels.

India enacted a Biological Diversity Act in 2002 in pursuance with its obligation to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Biological Diversity Act 2002 is a law meant to achieve three main objectives: the conservation of biodiversity; the sustainable use of biological resources; equity in sharing benefits from such use of resources.

The Act had received mixed responses; as it did contain some progressive provisions towards ensuring community control over Biodiversity. However, the issuance of the Biological Diversity Rules 2004 reduced the role of the Biodiversity Management Committees to be established at village levels to being mere data providers.

This received severe response and criticism from different factions of the civil society and community reprsentatives as they felt that such Rules would simply place a vast mass of people all over the country, mainly tribals, farming communities, indigenous people, fisherfolk, pastoralists etc. at the mercy of a centralised or state level system of the management of biodiversity through the National Biodiversity Authority at Chennai and State Biodiversity Boards at state levels. The NBA oversees access to biological resources (wild plants and animals, crops, medicinal plants, livestock, etc), their commercial utilization, transfer of rights of research, and intellectual property rights related to biodiversity. Foreign institutions and companies are required to seek approval of the NBA for access whereas Indian companies or institutions are required only to intimate the NBA of their bio resource usage, thereby placing an unjustified trust in Indian corporates and institutions, knowing Indians (especially industrial corporations) are not necessarily any more responsible towards the environment or towards local communities, also some Indian companies could just be local fronts for foreign enterprises. Nowhere in this figures the role of the communities whose lives are entwined with biodiversity around them, be it through culture, religion or for basic sustenance.

What it is critical to note is that most of NBA's work seems to be on processing applications for access to biodiversity and/or research work. There is little attention to the conservation and sustainable use provisions of the Act.

The panchayats have come together for the second time as part of the Campaign for Community Control over Biodiversity and sent their resolutions to the Prime Minister. Several panchayats from all across the country had sent resolutions to the Union Minister of Environment and Forests in 2004, soon after the Biological Diversity Rules were enacted. Representatives had also met the Minister and submitted a memorandum in December 2004. However, no action was taken. Panchayats have for the last 3-4 months come together again and this time sent resolutions to the Prime Minister clearly stating they will not cooperate in any of the activities of either the NBA or the SBBs unless the following principles are recognized:

  1. Control over all aspects of local biodiversity and related knowledge must be with the local communities, with government departments helping us to tackle the threats that these face from destructive development and commercial forces.
  2. Our knowledge is our heritage and not for sale. Therefore we shall not be compelled into any process that reduces it to a tradable commodity which can be privatised.
  3. Documentation of local resources and traditional know-how ought to be voluntary in any form and manner as the community decides, and needs to be legally protected against misuse by outsiders.
  4. NBA, SBBs and all relevant government institutions must recognise existing social formations and customary groups that are the real biodiversity managers, and empower gram sabhas or village councils to decide on whether or not to set up new Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs).
  5. Local people’s access to biodiversity and its benefits, and the sharing of these benefits amongst local communities, must be given priority over and above commercial trade; we will allow neither misuse by corporates nor appropriation by governments.

Deccan Development Society has been one of the earliest to demand a change in those provisions of India's Biodiversity Act that marginalise local bodies such as Panchayat. It had facilitated several meetings of Sarpanchas from AP and other states to explain the implications of the Biodiversity Act.

p v satheesh
director

Click for Covering letter to PM from the Campaign