Bonanza for the Corporates

Modi led BJP government is reportedly introducing several bills in the Monsoon session of the parliament that will provide free access for the corporates and private players to exploit country’s natural resources and it’s Commons, by restricting/excluding the rights of the people. The bills, not only adversely impact the environment; it will snatch away the rights of the people over their traditional resources. 

Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill 2023

Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill 2023 takes a significant portion of forests out of the purview of FCA, considers a number of non-forestry activities as forestry activities, overlooks Forest Rights Act 2006 and Gram Sabha consent and aims to build a more centralized forest governance. The Bill clearly states that the objective is to eliminate all those provisions which “restrain the authorities from undertaking any change in the land use and allowing any development or utility related work”. For any project in such forest lands which are now excluded from regulation of FCA, there will be no need to have forest clearance and compliance to Forest Rights act (FRA) 2006. Eventually, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers living in those lands will be deprived of their rights of land and livelihoods.

The Bill is in accordance with the Central Government’s policies of ‘ease of doing businesses’ where thousands kilometer of ecosensitive zones in border areas of Himalayan, Trans-Himalayan and North Eastern regions, can be taken over by private parties disregarding the bio-geographic values and rights of local indigenous and forest dweller communities. The aim is not the restoration of the forest ecosystem but to make forest lands easily available for the corporates. Further, as plantation or reforestation on land which are not specified in government records needs no clearance under FCA, it would facilitate private forests and their commercial use.

The preamble of the bill claims to enable actions to achieve national targets of Net Zero Emission by 2070, to enhance the forest carbon stocks through ecologically balanced sustainable development, to create carbon sink of additional 2.5 to 3.0 billion tons of CO2 equivalent by 2030 as envisaged by Nationally Determined Contribution targets and to increase forest and tree cover to one-third of its land area. It is to be noted that the carbon stock of the country as recently reported has risen from 6663 million ton in 2011 to 7204 million ton in 2021 which is much lower than this super ambitious target. Moreover, the action plans in the Bill like granting exemptions to numerous projects, designing model to legalize forest land diversion, permitting more ‘non forest’ activities everything goes exactly to the opposite to what is claimed in the preamble. The intention to increase the forest cover rapidly is an attempt to make forest land available for funded plantations in the name of combating climate change and pulling fund for carbon storage. The proposed amendments bear a flawed approach of building carbon stocks focusing mostly on plantations and weaken the significance of protection and conservation of forests and forest rights.

The FCA amendment Bill 2023 needs to be seen in the light of the gradual hegemonic control over the forests and serial assaults on nature, natural resources and livelihoods by the Central Government. From diluting EIA Notification to multiple violations of FRA, this Government has made all efforts to weaken and dismantle the environmental and forest regulations in the name of ‘ease of doing business’.

The anti-people ploy of this Government continues in the present FC Amendment Bill 2023. The Preamble of the Bill symbolically mentions about India’s tradition of preserving forests and bio-diversity but deliberately avoids mentioning about Forest Rights Act 2006, Gram Sabha and Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 (PESA) even for once and completely disregards economic, social and environmental rights of the forest dependent communities contrary to what is claimed in the Preamble. The broad exemption list has been introduced to ensure more and more diversion of forest land and displacement of the forest dependent communities.

A detailed analysis of the bill was published in May 2023 issue of Liberation. It can also be accessed at www.liberation.org.in

Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2022

The government is planning to introduce the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill to change Biological Diversity Act, 2002. The act was introduced to address to concerns raised at United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) 1992 for the conservation of biological diversity and fair, equitable sharing of the monetary benefits from the commercial use of biological resources and traditional knowledge. It recognises contributions of local and indigenous communities to conservation and sustainable use through traditional knowledge, practices, and innovations. The CBD, of which India became a signatory in 1994 has two additional protocols - Cartagena Protocol on biosafety (2003), and Nagoya Protocol on access and benefit sharing (2014).

The present bill in the name of encouraging the Indian system of medicine and cultivation of wild medicinal plants and fast-tracking foreign investment in the sector dilutes the rights of the indigenous and local communities from access and benefit sharing. Under the new bill registered Ayush practitioners who have been practising traditional medicine can access ‘any biological resource and its associated knowledge for commercial utilisation’, without giving prior intimation to the state biodiversity board.

Ritwick Dutta, environmental lawyer notes (Hindustan Times, Dec 2021) that “The amendment seems to be done with the sole intention of providing benefit to the Ayush industry. The main focus of the bill is to facilitate trade in biodiversity as opposed to conservation, protection of biodiversity and knowledge of the local communities. The amendments are completely contrary to the aim and objective of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002.”

Furthermore, the bill lacks a mechanism for obtaining prior informed consent of the local and indigenous communities.  Nagoya Protocol, in addition to a fair and equitable benefit sharing requires a signatory country to ensure that prior informed consent of indigenous and a local community is obtained for access to genetic resources and traditional knowledge.

The bill also removes the direct role of local bodies and benefit claimers in determining mutually agreed terms. Removing the role of local bodies, the bill instead calls for mutually agreed terms between the applicant and the concerned Biodiversity Management Committee represented by National Biodiversity Authority (NBA).

Finally, the bill also adds a controversial term “codified traditional knowledge” and excluding it from the purview of benefits claims. The bill has not defined the term ‘codified traditional knowledge’ and also there is no mention of such term in CBD or Nagoya or Cartagena protocols. The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) defines codified traditional knowledge as “traditional knowledge which is in some systematic and structured form, in which the knowledge is ordered, organised, classified and categorised in some manner” 

Experts have warned that such an exception completely dilutes the act and if the WIPO definition is used as basis, all local traditional knowledge would be exempt from benefit sharing provisions considering the fact that the People’s Biodiversity Register under the previous act will contain comprehensive and organised information on “the availability and knowledge of local biological resources, their medicinal or any other use, or any traditional knowledge associated with them”.

The present bill clearly is in contravention of the objective and purpose of the CBD. Rather than protecting the biodiversity and the rights of indigenous and local people over traditional knowledge, the bill opens up the sector for large scale exploitation.

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