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Thursday, January 20, 2022

On discussion table: proposed levy for finished products, a debate, and rejection

🔴 ABS exemption for a number of producer categories has been among the main thrusts of the proposed amendments brought in by the ministry in order to liberalise the biodiversity-related markets.

Written by Esha Roy | New Delhi |
December 23, 2021 4:50:10 am
Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, Bhupender Yadav, Lok Sabha, parliament news, Access and Benefit Sharing ABS, A K Goyal, AYUSH ministry, Indian Express, India news, current affairs, Indian Express News Service, Express News Service, Express News, Indian Express India NewsBhupender Yadav (File)

A levy meant to pay local communities equitably for using biological resources conserved by them was a contentious point in discussions surrounding the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021, with officials and experts picking holes in multiple aspects.

At a meeting of the cabinet secretariat on February 11 to discuss the Bill, tabled recently in Lok Sabha by Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav, a senior official called for levying Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) from companies on their end product, rather than the raw materials.

Chairman of the Expert Committee on Biodiversity Rules and Guidelines on Access Benefit Sharing, A K Goyal, said this was because “raw material is of no value and the end product is of very high value”, according to the minutes of the meeting.

The proposal, which would essentially have meant a higher share for local communities, was overruled by Environment Secretary R P Gupta and AYUSH secretary Rajesh Kotecha, who said imposing ABS on finished products “would not be fair” as they involve various additional inputs, The Indian Express has learnt.

ABS comes under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. Its 2014 guidelines ensure that benefits derived from the use of biological resources are shared in a fair manner among the local communities that possess traditional knowledge regarding its use.

What this means is that when large companies use medicinal or other indigenous plants for their products, they have to pay ABS to the communities that conserve and protect them.

The ABS levied in India is between 0.1 and 0.5 per cent — which critics say is very low.

ABS exemption for a number of producer categories has been among the main thrusts of the proposed amendments brought in by the ministry in order to liberalise the biodiversity-related markets. This has drawn heat from environmentalists.

The AYUSH Ministry said in the meeting that codified traditional knowledge — where the source of biodiversity and identity of owner are known — should be exempted from the Act. But non-codified knowledge — often passed down orally over generations — should be brought under its purview. This suggestion is part of the amendment Bill that has now been referred to a Joint Committee of Parliament.

While the ministry has proposed the relaxation of norms to allow foreign investment in Indian companies that deal in biodiversity products, as well as Indian research institutes, it is the proposals for ABS that have been most controversial.

“We are in the midst of one of the biggest biodiversity crises with the increasing loss of species etc, and these proposed amendments have diluted the existing norms — decriminalising penalties… The intent of the government is very clear, and that is to help commercial enterprises profit and not to protect biodiversity, which is the main purpose of the Act,” said environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta.

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