GUWAHATI: Forest-rich Arunachal Pradesh is giving a new meaning to the concept of “Joint Forest Management”.
Through the formation of Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) at district and village panchayat levels, the state seeks to accomplish a twin objective. It is involving locals to map forests and prevent the smuggling of rare medicinal herbs/plants and denudation of forests.
Official sources said the whole idea behind the setting up of BMCs is to thwart bio-piracy that is rampant. The Central government had in 2002 framed the Biodiversity Act with a similar objective. However, it was not implemented on the ground.
Divisional Forest Officer Abhinav Kumar, who is posted in Ziro, said the Biodiversity Act mandates each state to form the BMCs. Arunachal has started implementing it in Ziro.
“In February, the state government had issued a notification declaring all village panchayats as BMCs. The locals have been drawn in as the members of the committees,” Kumar said.
The groundwork of BMCs has started. The forest department in Ziro has started approaching them and telling them of the road ahead which begins with the formation of People’s Biodiversity Register or PBR at panchayat level.
Under the PBRs, the BMCs will have the details of the flora of an area – from grass to trees. The Arunachal Pradesh State Biodiversity Board (APSBB) gives financial support for the PBRs so the locals can explore the jungles and conduct a survey.
“Basically, we want to stop bio-piracy. It is rampant in Arunachal as well as the Northeast. I know about some cases in my area where foreign scientists and researchers, who came in the guise of tourists, collected samples of local plants/herbs and left. Later, they took credit for the discovery of medicinal properties in them,” Kumar said.
Explaining it further, he said, “The tourists will explore the forests without our knowledge and return home with herbs/plants by paying a small amount to the villagers. Back home, some come out with papers saying that the plant has a certain chemical that can be used as a cure for a certain disease. They will take credit for the discovery and claim a patent. So, you take my property without my knowledge and you become the owner. This has happened with several of Arunachal’s medicinal plants”.
There are also local elements familiar with the medicinal plants and herbs. They smuggle these into China. There is rampant smuggling of the “Paris polyphylla” plants found in Ziro besides Mechuka and Bomdila. The government wants to stop these activities.
The Northeast accounts for one/third of the country’s forest cover. As regards orchid species, Arunachal has 622 species, the highest in the region, followed by Sikkim (543) and Meghalaya (389).
Talking about access and benefit-sharing, Kumar said: “There is an orchid called “Bulbophyllum arunachalesis” that was discovered in Ziro. If it turns out to be a medicinal plant tomorrow, whichever company will use it has to pay us royalty as we have the PBR. The access and benefit-sharing will be with the locals”.
Kumar said the National Medicinal Plants Board (NMPB) and the Union Ministry of Forests and Environment were hugely supporting the BMC model. The NMPB gives projects for the conservation of plants but the BMC model is a must.
“We guide villagers on how to prepare a PBR. For each PBR, they will get Rs.1.25 lakh from the APSBB. Funds come for the conservation of plants on a project-basis. We are now into conservation. We will consider the plants’ commercial use later. If monitoring is not strong, there are always chances of leakage. The BMCs will do the monitoring,” the forest officer added.