CHENNAI: For years, corporate companies and commercial traders have allegedly been plundering Tamil Nadu’s rich biological resources and making windfall profits, while conveniently ignoring their “benefit sharing” obligations under India’s Biological Diversity Act of 2002.
Official records accessed by TNIE revealed that at least 650 companies in the State have violated the BD Act— which regulates the commercial utilisation of bio-resources — and the Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) arrangement under the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) Nagoya Protocol, which insists on fair and equitable sharing of benefits from utilisation of resources.
The companies have been regularly accessing and utilising the bio-resources as raw materials, or trading them, without complying with the National Biodiversity Authority’s (NBA) ABS guidelines of 2014.
Under it, every manufacturer to pay 3 per cent to 5 per cent of the purchase price of resources, while every trader must pay 1 per cent to 3 per cent of the price.
For resources having high economic value such as sandalwood, and their derivatives, the benefit sharing may include an upfront payment of not less than 5 per cent, as decided by the NBA or the State Biodiversity Board.
However, most companies are yet to show any intent to comply, despite the TN Biodiversity Board sending multiple reminders.
Aside from being a cognizable and non-bailable offence under sections of the BD Act, this has caused revenue losses of crores of rupees for the State. Names of 677 such companies/traders were recently shortlisted.
‘Board contemplating issuing legal notices to companies not falling in line’
“We have issued letters to all 677 companies, to which only 31 responded positively. Their applications to the NBA are being processed and agreements will be signed with the respective Biological Management Committees (BMCs) for ABS payouts.
Some companies claimed they don’t come under the purview of ABS; many did not even respond, while letters to 64 companies returned as not deliverable,” said Debasis Jana, secretary, TN Biodiversity Board. Jana said the board tried to persuade the companies to voluntarily register for the biological resources they are accessing, and pay ABS amount.
But as they are not falling in line, “the board is contemplating issuing legal notices and exploring the option of filing cases against whom there is substantial evidence,” he added.
Poor compliance of ABS guidelines in TN was also partly because the State notified Tamil Nadu Biological Diversity Rules only in 2017 after the NGT passed strictures. Steps to constitute BMCs and prepare People’s Biodiversity Register (PBRs) were taken thereafter.
On date, there are 13,604 BMCs and corresponding PBRs. The unregulated exploitation has put tremendous pressure on biological resources.
For instance, plants like Garcinia cambogia, and Garcinia indica, native to the Western Ghats and high in demand, are on the verge of extinction. Pharma companies use their extracts to produce drugs against cancer.
No scientific study has been done to assess the volume and type of TN’s biological resources used by the companies.
The German Agency for International Cooperation, which is working with the State on an ABS Partnership Project under the Indo-German Biodiversity Programme, is soon expected to publish results of its study on 20 highly-traded medicinal plants in TN. An official said some of the details of the study are worrisome.
“There is a medicinal plant called Gymnema sylvvestre, locally known as siru kurinjan, whose extract is used for diabetes control. The Forest Department has restricted its harvest since it has been over-exploited. However, pharma companies continue accessing it in large quantities without paying ABS. Most of the trade happens through the unorganised sector,” the official said.
The Madurai-based Covenant Centre for Development’s John Britto, who has worked with communities on conservation, collection, cultivation and trade of medicinal plants, said it is important for TN to protect their livelihood.
“There are ethnic groups which depend solely on this collection. The government should evolve a mechanism where ABS amount directly goes to BMCs,” he said. (This story was produced with the support of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network)
Status of applications at National Biodiversity Authority
Received - 5,628
Approval granted & agreement signed - 2,887
Pending with applicant for executive of agreement - 1,581
Model agreement sent so far - 4,468
Closed - 874
Under process - 240
Number of companies using biological resources of Tamil Nadu: 677
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