Centre hints at tough rules to regulate use of genetic resources

Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jayanthi Natarajan on Friday hinted at tougher norms for multi-national companies who seek to utilise the country’s natural resources.

“We will not allow commercial exploitation of our genetic resources by foreign companies in the name of research unless clear, robust and transparent systems are in place to ensure fair and equitable benefit sharing with local people,” Natarajan said.

Inaugurating the eighth national meet of the state biodiversity boards under the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) here, Natarajan said: “Theft of our natural resources is more serious than banking frauds. For the foreign companies to take a gene from us and develop it as their own in the name of research is simply not permissible, unless such activities are in adherence to the Intellectual Property Rights rules.”

She emphasised that “the politico-economic ramifications of the about 92,000 recognised species of flora and about 41,000 species of fauna in India should be properly understood.” She recalled the tough legal battle India fought for turmeric. “Now, it is for brinjal, even as there is a dispute over the theft of genes of the Ongole bull (Andhra Pradesh) and the Gir bull (Gujarat). We should not allow such thefts,” she said.

There is a thin line between research and commercial exploitation. Research is also important.

“There has to be a proper barrier between experimental and farmers’ fields to avoid contamination of genetic materials,” the minister said.

While India has been a pioneer in legislating the Biological Diversity Act in 2002, its implementation depended on cooperation at the state and district levels. About 32,000 district-level biodiversity management committees have been formed. “While approving the use of any particular genetic material for research, there must be a fair and equitable sharing of benefits with the locals, as it is linked to the livelihood of millions of people,” Jayanthi Natarajan added.

Listing the targets yet to be achieved by the NBA, V Rajagopalan, secretary in the ministry of environment and forests, said the state-level bodies are yet to complete their respective biodiversity registers. One of the key requirements is that states should notify their respective biodiversity heritage sites, sacred groves and medicinal herbs.

Karnataka is the only state to have done the needful, said Rajagopalan.

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