The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bio-diversity Bill gets nod

New Delhi, Dec. 11: The Rajya Sabha today passed the Biological Diversity Bill, which will regulate access to and provide for conservation of the country’s rich and diverse ecosystem.

In the past, India’s biological resources have been liberally shared with other countries. But today’s Bill, earlier unanimously passed by the Lok Sabha, ensures that the rich resources will not be exploited free of charge.

Wrapping up the debate on the Bill, environment minister T.R. Baalu said as a farmer, he was proud to be piloting the legislation. But he acknowledged that the Bill was the “result” of not just the efforts of the National Democratic Alliance government. “It was initiated by the Congress government in 1994 (and) consultations had begun as early as 1987…. It is the joint endeavour of three successive governments,” Baalu said.

The Bill provides safeguards to protect the interests of the local people and growers and cultivators of biological diversity as well as researches. The Bill envisages a three-tier structure, with the National Bio-diversity Authority (NBA) at the apex. There will also be state bio-diversity boards and a bio-diversity committee to regulate access to plants and genetic resources.

The NBA’s approval will be required before obtaining any form of intellectual property rights on an invention based on a biological resource from India or on traditional knowledge. The NBA will also deal with all cases of access by foreigners.

Members cutting across party lines supported the Bill, but several felt the NBA headquarters should not have been in Chennai but Delhi. Baalu is from Tamil Nadu. Some said he was favouring his home state.

Baalu defended the decision, saying Chennai was an ideal location. “We have both distinct flora, fauna and ocean in the south. The Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea as well as the Eastern and Western Ghats are all located in the southern region. So it is quite rational to have the NBA’s headquarters here,” he said. “By the way,” he reminded the members, “Tamil Nadu is also in India.”

The CPM’s S. Ramachandran Pillai said the Bill ignored the concerns of the community and stressed mostly on the commercial potentials of bio-diversity. Saiffudin Soz of the Congress, a former environment minister, felt the Bill should have been introduced years ago.

Constitutional expert Fali Nariman pointed out that creation of state boards would be a “non starter” as most state governments were broke and would never find funds to put in place the monitoring mechanisms.

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