GS Paper 3 – FOREST AND WILDLIFE CONSERVATION

The forests in India are spread over an area of 2,692,027 km, covering 21.05% of the geographical area of the country. There are 16 major forest types and 251 sub-types (FSI 2011). The forest cover of the country has been classified on the basis of the tree canopy density into pre-defined classes: Very Dense Forest (VDF), Moderately Dense Forest (MDF) and Open Forest (OF). Scrub, though shown separately, is not counted as forest cover.

While in many developing countries, forest cover has either remained static or has reduced, India has added around 3 million hectares of forest and tree cover over the last decade. Forests neutralise approximately 21.17% of India’s Green House Gases (GHG) emissions.

Government initiatives for Conservation:

Realizing the importance of conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity as well as fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of it, India has developed a relatively robust legislative and policy framework for biodiversity governance. Although some measures date back several decades, concerted action on this front started from the 1970s onwards.

The idea of protection of the environment, including biodiversity, is enshrined in the Constitution of India. It enjoins both the State and the citizens to take appropriate steps in this direction.

Article 48-A of the Constitution of India states that `[t]he State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country’, and

Article 51-A (g) states that `[i]t shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.

Forest Conservation Act, 1980: The Forest Conservation Act of 1980 (FCA) can be seen as a single biggest legislative initiative in Indian history to slow deforestation caused by the conversion of forestlands to non-forest purposes. Under this Act, no State Government can authorise such conversion without securing Central Government’s approval.

Note that the FCA does not itself ban any non-forest activity or the de-reservation of forest land. The Act has been given credit by some for slowing the rate of deforestation in India, in part by providing a defence against political pressures –where the State Governments may be particularly vulnerable – for converting forest areas to other uses.

Indian Forest Act, 1927: The Indian Forest Act of 1927 (IFA) and its progeny in the various states provide the overarching framework for forest management in India. The preamble to the Act states that the Act seeks to consolidate the law relating to forests, the transit of forest produces and the duty leviable on timber and other forest produce.

Indian Forest Act establishes three categories of forests. The most restricted category is “reserved forest.” In reserved forests, most uses by local people are prohibited unless specifically allowed by a forest officer in the course of “settlement.” In “protected forests,” the government retains the power to issue rules regarding the use of such forests, but in the absence of such rules, most practices are allowed. Among other powers, the state retains the power to reserve specific tree species in protected forests which has been used to establish state control over trees whose timber, fruit or other non-wood products have revenue-raising potential.

A third classification is “village forests” in which the state government may assign to “any village-community”. Such reservation has been done extensively in the State of U.P which will be seen the section on Uttar Pradesh and biodiversity the rights of Government to or over any land which has been constituted a reserved forest.

Although a number of government agencies work on different aspects of biodiversity governance, the nodal agency for planning, promoting, coordinating and overseeing implementation of policies and programmes related to biodiversity governance at the national level is the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). There are five important types of biodiversity governance prevalent in India. They are as follows:

1. Protected areas: Formal protected areas cover around 4.9 percent of the country’s geographical area. They are an important component of India’s biodiversity conservation strategy.

Although several more protected areas were gazetted in the ensuing decades, the real thrust came in the 1970s with the enactment of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and the launch of Project Tiger in 1973.

In the 1980s, a need was felt for a more planned network of protected areas to encompass the full diversity of the country’s natural ecosystems. In response to this, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) developed a biogeographic classification system. Subsequently, many more protected areas, including coastal and marine protected areas, were established.

Since the 1990s, there have been attempts to introduce a participatory approach in the management of protected areas, most notably through the concept of ‘ecodevelopment’.

New categories such as ‘Community Reserves’ and ‘Conservation Reserves’, which have been introduced recently, also attempt to broaden the concept of protected areas and encourage greater involvement of local people.

2. Autonomous community efforts: Autonomous community efforts (ACE) are initiated by communities for conservation and management of biological resources. ACEs in India are extremely diverse in Biodiversity governance models in India. Such efforts can be broadly classified into two categories – 1) Community conserved areas (CCAs) and 2) Sacred groves (SGs).

The main difference between the two lies in resource use. While resources in CCAs are generally appropriated for use, those in SGs are used only in exceptional circumstances, or for religious/ spiritual reasons.

While there is no comprehensive database, one estimate considers the total area under CCAs in India to be at least as great as the area under formal protected areas. Similarly, while estimates vary widely, according to one, the number of SGs in the country could be between 100,000 and 150,000.

So far, it is mainly civil society and community-based organizations (CBOs) that have played a key role in highlighting the importance of ACEs. As many ACEs are facing extreme challenges on account of rapidly changing socio-economic and political environments, a number of steps may be needed at different levels to ensure their long-term survival.

3. Territorial forests: Nearly a fifth of India’s geographical area is classified as forest lands. There are two main categories – reserved and protected forests – that mainly differ in the extent of rights and privileges accorded to the local people.

The management of these lands has profound implications for biodiversity governance in the country. For example, as many as eight carnivore species have been recorded in Jeypore in the state of Assam, which is not a formal protected area, but a reserved forest.

Although outside the country’s formal protected areas network, these forest lands nonetheless qualify as protected areas under IUCN categories.

Territorial forests are now managed according to the principles of sustainable forest management (SFM) through working plans. There is increasing emphasis on conservation and meeting subsistence needs of local communities.

4. Co-management of forests: In recent decades, India has experimented with the concept of co-management of State-owned natural resources such as forests. Although community involvement in the management of State forests has a long history, it was a few successful experiments in community involvement on State forest lands in the 1980s that sowed the seeds of Joint Forest Management (JFM).

Under JFM, the state Forest Department enters into an agreement with the local community, which is allowed greater access to the forest resources as well as a share in revenue, in return for protection of the forests against unauthorized extraction, encroachment and damage.

This idea received a major policy boost in 1988 when the National Forest Policy advocated the creation of a ‘massive people’s movement’ to achieve national goals of afforestation/reforestation and meet the requirements of small timber, fuel wood, fodder and non-timber forest products (NTFPs) of the rural and tribal populations.

The programme was formally launched in 1990 and has grown to become one of the largest community forestry programmes in the world. There are presently over 118,000 Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMCs) that protect/manage around 23 million hectares of forest lands.

Recently, attempts have been made to federate the JFMCs into Forest Development Agencies, which are provided with financial support by the central government. The JFM programme is likely to play a significant role in Indian forestry in the coming decade as it has been identified as a major programme to tackle climate change under the ‘Green India Mission’

5. Decentralized governance of biodiversity: India has devolved considerable powers to local self-government institutions in rural areas, which are known as Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs). The Constitution (Seventy-third Amendment) Act, 1992 devolves power over minor forest produce, social forestry, farm forestry and fisheries to PRIs.

Ex-situ and In-situ conservation:

Policy background to forest and wildlife conservation in India has undertaken a range of conservation measures to protect its biodiversity, including ex-situ and in-situ measures.

In-situ conservation: Biodiversity at all its levels, genetic species and as intact ecosystems, can be best preserved in-situ by setting aside an adequate representation of wilderness as ‘Protected Areas’.

There are four main categories of protected areas, viz., National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, Conservation Reserves and Community Reserves. Both National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries are areas with significant ecological, faunal, floral, geomorphological, natural or zoological features. The main difference between the two lies in the rights of the people living inside them – while certain use rights can be allowed inside a Sanctuary, no rights are allowed in a National Park.

Conservation Reserves can be declared by the state government in any area owned by the government, particularly the areas adjacent to National Parks and Sanctuaries and those areas which link one protected area with another. The rights of people living inside a Conservation Reserve are not affected.

Community Reserves can be declared by the state government on any private or community land, not comprised within a National Park, Sanctuary or Conservation Reserve, where an individual or community has volunteered to conserve wildlife and its habitat. As in the case of Conservation Reserves, the rights of people living inside a Community Reserve are not affected.

The protected area network extends over 16.1 million hectares or 4.9 percent of the country’s geographical area. While many protected areas are focused on terrestrial fauna, some have been established mainly to protect marine habitats or plants such as wild citrus, rhododendrons and orchids (MoEF, 2001). By and large, these protected areas are managed through ‘the ecosystem approach’ with a core-buffer strategy for conservation.

Apart from the four main categories of protected areas listed above, there are other, often overlapping, categories as well. There are 18 Biosphere Reserves, of which so far seven have been included in the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves. Also 25 wetlands have been declared as Ramsar sites and six protected areas have been designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

Other categories of biodiversity-rich areas requiring conservation focus have also been established under different national laws.

Although the formal protected area network covers around 4.9 percent of the country’s geographical area, the actual extent of area under conservation is significantly higher. For example, many reserved and protected forests outside the protected area network are managed with conservation as an important objective.

 A significant proportion of the coastal zone has been offered protection under the Coastal Regulation Zone notification16 issued under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. India has special schemes for conservation of vulnerable ecosystems.

Thirty-eight mangrove areas and four coral reef areas have been identified for intensive conservation and management. The National River Conservation Plan covers 39 rivers and considerable efforts have been made to improve water quality through pollution abatement. Under the National Lake Conservation Plan, projects for conservation of as many as 61 lakes have been taken up since 2001. Under the National Wetlands Conservation Programme, 115 wetlands have been identified for conservation (MoEF, 2012). In-situ conservation of medicinal plants is being undertaken by a number of government agencies and NGOs. The central government runs a programme (Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats) that inter alia provides support for protection of wildlife outside the protected areas.

Throughout the world, the value of biologically rich natural areas is now being increasingly appreciated as being of unimaginable value. International agreements such as the World Heritage Convention attempt to protect and support such areas.

India is a signatory to the convention and has included several protected Areas as World Heritage sites. These include Manas on the border between Bhutan and India, Kaziranga in Assam, Bharatpur in U.P., Nandadevi in the Himalayas, and the Sunderbans in the Ganges delta in West Bengal.

Ex-situ conservation: Conservation of a species is best done by protecting its habitat along with all the other species that live in it in nature. This is known as in-situ conservation, which is conserving a species in its own environment by creating National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.

However, there are situations in which an endangered species is so close to extinction that unless alternate methods are instituted, the species may be rapidly driven to extinction. This strategy is known as ex-situ conservation, i.e. outside its natural habitat in a carefully controlled situation such as a botanical garden for plants or a zoological park for animals, where there is expertise to multiply the species under artificially managed conditions.

These breeding programs for rare plants and animals are however more expensive than managing a Protected Area. There is also another form of preserving a plant by preserving its germ plasm in a gene bank so that it can be used if needed in future. This is even more expensive. When an animal is on the brink of extinction, it must be carefully bred so that inbreeding does not lead to the genetic makeup becoming weak. Breeding from the same stock can lead to poorly adapted progeny or even inability to get enough offspring.

Modern breeding programs are done in zoos that provide for all the animal’s needs, including enclosures that simulate their wild habitats. There may also be a need to assist breeding artificially. Thus, while most zoos are meant to provide visitors with a visual experience of seeing a wild animal close up, and provide the visitors with information about the species, a modern zoo has to go beyond these functions that include breeding of endangered species as a conservation measure.

In India, successful ex situ conservation programs have been done for all our three species of crocodiles. This has been highly successful. Delhi zoo has successfully bred the rare Manipur brow antlered deer. However, the most important step of a successful breeding program is the reintroduction of a species into its original wild habitat. This requires rehabilitation of the degraded habitat and removal of the other causes such as poaching, disturbance, or other manmade influences that have been the primary cause of reducing the population of the species.

Institutions created for wildlife conservation:  

 1. National Board for Wildlife (NBWL): Formerly known as the Indian Board for Wildlife, NBWL is a multidisciplinary body comprising government functionaries, NGOs, conservationists and ecologists. NBWL advises the government on wildlife conservation, illegal trade and poaching, management of protected areas, impact assessment of projects, and other related issues.

Constituted under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, NBWL is chaired by the Prime Minister.

2. National government: At the national level, Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) deals with wildlife conservation. The Wildlife wing in MoEF, headed by the Additional Director General of Forests (Wildlife), is responsible for formulating broad policies on wildlife conservation, providing financial and technical assistance to conservation programmes through various centrally sponsored schemes, declaring Tiger Reserves and Elephant Reserves, enacting wildlife laws, negotiating international conventions and treaties, setting standards for zoos, regulating international trade in wildlife, promoting policy, research and capacity building.

3. National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA): The Authority is a statutory body established in 2006 by an amendment to the Wildlife (Protection) Act. Important functions of NTCA include:

 1) evaluating and assessing various aspects of sustainable ecology in tiger-bearing habitats and disallowing ecologically unsustainable land use in them;

2) laying down normative standards for tourism;

3) measures to address human-animal conflict;

4) developing future conservation plans, estimation of tiger and prey populations, status of habitats, disease surveillance, mortality surveys etc.;                                                                                                                 

5) approving and coordinating research and monitoring of tigers, co-predators, prey, habitat, and related ecological and socio-economic parameters;

6) supporting Tiger Reserve management in biodiversity conservation through ecodevelopment and people’s participation; and

7) facilitating skills development of officers and staff of Tiger Reserves.

4. Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB): The Bureau is the national agency to deal with wildlife crime. Established in 2007, WCCB complements the efforts of state governments and other enforcement agencies.                                                                                                         5. Central Zoo Authority (CZA): The Authority was created in 1992 to enforce minimum standards and norms for the upkeep and healthcare of animals in Indian zoos so that they complement and strengthen national efforts on the conservation of wild fauna. The National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016) emphasizes the role of zoos for ex-situ breeding of endangered species and their rehabilitation in the wild as per IUCN guidelines for reintroduction.

 Other federal institutions empowered to investigate forest and wildlife offences include Indian Coast Guard, Border Security Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Railway Police Force, Customs Bureau, Central Bureau of Investigation etc.

Important Wildlife Protection Projects by Indian Government

Apart from conserving critical habitats through the protected area network, another important strategy adopted is species-focused conservation. The two flagship schemes are Project Tiger and Project Elephant. Initiated in 1992 by the Government of India Project Elephant aims at conserving elephants and their habitat and of migratory routes by developing scientific and planned management measures.

At present, there are 41 Tiger Reserves and 32 Elephant Reserves in the country. In addition to tiger and elephant, recovery programmes for 15 other critically endangered species have also been launched recently. These include Asiatic lion, One-horned rhinoceros, Snow leopard, Asian wild buffalo, Malabar civet (Viverra civettina), Edible nest swiftlet (Aerodramus fuciphagus), Hangul (Cervus eldi eldi), Nilgiri tahr, Manipur brow-antlered deer (Rucervus eldii eldii) and Swamp deer.

Here are other few important steps that Government of India has taken for the wildlife protection:

  • GoI also launched ‘Monitoring system for Tigers’ Intensive Protection and Ecological Status (M-STrIPES)’ for effective field patrolling and monitoring as a part of Project Tiger.
  • Crocodile Conservation Project is yet another successful venture by Government of India to conserve the Indian Crocodiles, whose species were on the verge of extinction once.
  • With an objective to conserve the Olive Ridley Turtles, the UNDP Sea Turtle Project was initiated by Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun as the Implementing Agency in November 1999.
  • Apart from these projects, GOI also has been handling projects like Vulture Conservation and India Rhino Vision (IRV) 2020.
  • Special organizations like Wildlife Institute of India, Bombay Natural History society and Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History are formed to conduct research on conservation of wildlife.
  • To check the dwindling population of Gyps vulture in India, Government of India has banned the veterinary use of diclofenac drug.
  • India has also signed the Convention in the Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) which is intended to reduce the utilization of endangered plants and animals by controlling trade in their products and in the pet trade.
  • Since 1983, India is also a Party to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and has signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the conservation and management of migratory species such as Siberian cranes, Marine turtles and Dugongs.
  • The State Governments have been asked to strengthen the field formations and increase patrolling in and around the Protected Areas.
  • GOI intensified anti-poaching activities and initiated special patrolling strategy for monsoon season. Also, deployment of anti-poaching squad.
  • A Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF) has also been constituted and is deployed in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Odisha.
  • E-Surveillance has been started in few national parks like the Kaziranga National Park in Assam and borders of Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.
  • Issues:
    Protected Areas must also be integrated with each other by establishing corridors between adjacent areas wherever possible so that wildlife can move between them. In our country, which has a rapidly growing human population, it is not easily feasible to set aside more and more land to create Protected Areas.
  • The need to provide a greater amount of land for agricultural and other needs has become an increasing cause of concern in land and resource management. This forms a major impediment for creating new Protected Areas. Having said this, there is an urgent need to add to our Protected Areas to preserve our very rich biological diversity.
  • Much of the natural wilderness has already undergone extensive changes. The residual areas that have high levels of species richness, endemism or endangered plants and animals must be notified as National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries. Other areas can be made into Community Conserved Areas which are managed by local people.
  • The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources states that it is essential to include at least 10% of all ecosystems as Protected Areas if biodiversity is to be conserved in the long-term.
  • India has under 5% of land in its Protected Areas. However much of this includes plantations of sal or teak, which were developed for timber in the past and are thus relatively poor in diversity and have a low level of ‘naturalness’.
  • There are only a few good grasslands left in our country that are notified as Protected Areas. Some are overgrazed wastelands in areas that were once flourishing grasslands.
  • Only a few wetlands have been made into Sanctuaries. These require better management.
  • A major strategy to reduce impacts on the biodiversity of the PAs should be to provide a sustainable source of resources for local people living around them. A Protected Area curtails their traditional grazing practices and access fuelwood sources. These resources must be provided by developing them in buffer areas. Plantations of fuel wood and good grassland management in areas outside Protected reas can help reduce the pressure on the habitat of wildlife in the Protected Area. Management must ensure that local people derive a direct economic benefit from the presence of the PA.
  • Involving local people in Protected Area management and developing tourist facilities that support the income generation for local people helps in involving their support for the Protected Area.
  • A carefully designed management plan which incorporates an ‘ecodevelopment’ component aimed at providing a source of fuel wood, fodder and alternate income generation for local people, is an important aspect of PA management.
  • A Community Conserved Area must have specific conservation goals that can be achieved without compromising the area’s utilitarian potential.

Why Conservation fails?

A variety of external driving factors including climate change, have brought about a shift in terms of social and ecological processes across the landscapes protected for biodiversity conservation. Further, in view of the fact that these changing socio-economic and ecological processes are more visible in the protected areas, it is necessary that agencies, managers, policy makers, scientists and the public do a rethink in terms of devising innovative policy responses for biodiversity conservation and sustainable socio-economic development.

The need of the hour and a possible solution, particularly in view of a possible threat looming large over the future generation, is to think of natural resources as one integrated piece of asset on this planet. These resources should be governed by uniform use policy, be it land, water or air or even forest or minerals.

 In fact, natural resource management with conservation and resource enhancement and preservation and pollution abatement as its primary goals, should be the focus of a new set of policies by the government. An integrated natural resource management policy can be a directive principle underlying the policy for states to administer with various departments and the Centre to monitor and evaluate the programmes.

An umbrella legislation like the well-drafted EPA (Environmental Protection Act) 1986, can go a long way in making a thematic conservation strategy for resource utilization and regeneration possible.

Fundamental changes, necessary for preventing a large-scale destruction of the nations (and the world’s) natural resources, can occur only if people could enjoy greater incentives so as to be able to rethink and reform their behavior towards the environment.

Ecology entails an interrelated existence of living beings and natural resources with environmental justice as the touching stone of resource conservation. Considering that resource conservation is a necessary condition for ensuring environmental justice, reorienting the legal regime towards this goal becomes significant in terms of policy and effects.

The interlinkage between water (jal), soil (jameen) and forest (jungle), calls for a long-term plan for developing forests, stopping the expansion of deserts, conserving soil fertility and nurturing groundwater through rain water harvesting, especially for meeting the challenges of droughts.

The lack of integrated approaches and definitive standards in this sphere allows different statutory bodies to adopt different criteria and policies while exercising overlapping controls with communication gaps so as to escape public accountability through mutual accusations. Unless conservation and preservation become the main aim of policy-making, environment in general and resources in face a possible threat of extinction.

Nature as a harmoniously unified entity, cannot tolerate a proverbial situation of “too many cooks spoiling the broth”

Way forward:

An effective protected area governance paradigm is crucial for securing India’s ecological security. Despite impressive gains over the years, the protected area system needs to adapt to changing times.

Expansion of Conservation Reserves and Community Reserves: While these two new categories of protected areas were introduced in 2002, the number of Community and Conservation Reserves has not increased much. More resolute efforts are needed to promote them.

Protection of wildlife outside protected areas: A significant population of wildlife outside the protected area network is under grave threat due to the absence of biodiversity mainstreaming policies governing these areas. Since 2008, MoEF is implementing a programme on Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats for strengthening wildlife conservation outside the legally designated protected areas. This programme needs more outreach.

Expansion of marine protected areas: India needs to considerably strengthen its marine protected area network. This requires amendments to the Wildlife (Protection) Act to create spaces for the specific requirements of marine protected areas. Further, this requires harmonization of various sectoral policies and legislation.

Integrating protected areas into wider landscapes: There is a perceptible shift in protected area governance from the earlier `people-exclusive’ Protected Areas – Reservoirs of Biodiversity approach to the new landscape-based approach which involves engaging a range of stakeholders. However, more efforts are required for mainstreaming protected area management into development planning – at national, sub-national and local level.

Articulating an economic case for protected areas: Securing adequate financial resources for protected area management remains a challenge. The economic contribution of protected areas in terms of provisioning ecosystem goods and services and supporting livelihoods (e.g. grazing, NTFPs etc.) needs to be assessed and articulated strongly in policy circles.

Securing livelihoods of local communities and generation of sustainable livelihoods: Identification, planning and implementation of successful and scalable ecodevelopment activities that support livelihoods while weaning communities from negative dependence on biological resources is a priority.

Adapting to climate change: Climate change is projected to have significant impact on protected areas. Due to sub-optimal technical capacity and resources, building resilience to climate change and climate proofing of protected areas has not made much progress in the country. Such efforts need to be initiated and strengthened.

Identification of inviolate areas for wildlife conservation: Given the high dependence on protected areas and the highly involved procedure for voluntary relocation of communities living therein, the identification and demarcation of inviolate areas pose a major challenge for protected area managers. This requires priority attention.

Formal recognition of CCAs: While a beginning has been made in identifying and mapping CCAs across the country, concerted efforts are required to formally recognize and support them. Providing greater recognition and support by developing a national level database of CCAs; documenting cases of CCAs and awarding exemplary initiatives; developing information base (including maps) and making information available to communities to help them prepare management plans for CCAs, and to take informed decisions regarding use and management; and creating national, state or sub-state systems and institutions for continuous support and guidance to CCAs.

In case the communities desire, CCAs can be recognized under the available laws like the Indian Forest Act (as village forests), or state-specific laws such as the Village Council Act of Nagaland. The legal status of CCAs may not be changed unless the community agrees on this and is fully aware of the implications of such a change.

Biological Diversity Act, 2002:

Arising out of its obligations as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity held at Rio de Janerio in 1992, and “to provide for conservation of Biological Diversity, sustainable use of its components and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use of biological resources and knowledge”, the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 (BD Act) was enacted by India to regulate access to, and use of, its biological resources.

In essence, the BD Act mandates approvals from the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) and to inform State Biodiversity Authorities (SBAs) for people to access and use biological resources, or knowledge associated thereto, for research purposes, commercial utilisation, bio-survey and bio-utilisation, for applying intellectual property or for transferring results of research.

The scope of the Act extends to “biological resources” occurring in and obtained from India and knowledge associated thereto. Section 2 (c) of the Act defines “biological resources” as plants, animals and micro-organisations or parts thereof, their genetic material and by-products (excluding value-added products) with actual or potential use or value but not including human genetic material.

The Act requires that a person/entity obtain prior approval from the NBA to:

  1. Access biological resources or traditional knowledge associated with it for the purposes of research, bio-survey, bio-utilisation or commercial utilization.
  2. Make any application for any intellectual property rights.
  3. Transfer any results of research.

It also stipulates that certain persons or entities are required to inform respective SBAs for obtaining certain biological resources occurring in and obtained from India for the purpose of commercial utilisation or bio-survey and bio-utilisation.

The other salient features of this Act may be broadly specified as follows:

  • Other than local communities all Indian nationals were regulated for collection and use of biodiversity.
    • Measures for sharing of benefits from the use of biodiversity, including transfer of technology, monetary returns, joint research & development, joint IPR ownership, etc.,
    • Measures to conserve and sustainably use biological resources, including habitat and species protection, environmental impact assessments (EIAs) of projects, integration of biodiversity into the plans, programmes, and policies of various departments/sectors;
    • Provisions for local communities to have a say in the use of their resources and knowledge, and to charge fees for this;
    • Protection of indigenous or traditional knowledge, through appropriate laws or other measures such as registration of such knowledge;
    •  Regulation of the use of genetically modified organisms.
    • Setting up of National, State, and Local Biodiversity Funds, to be used to support conservation and benefit-sharing;
    • Setting up of Biodiversity Management Committees (BMC) at local village level, State Biodiversity Boards (SBB) at state level, and a National Biodiversity Authority (NBA).

Issues with the Act:

  1. It provides for putting stringent limits on access to biological resources or related knowledge for all foreigners
  2. It differentiates between domestic companies and the MNCs, although the provisions of TRIPS demand that MNCs be treated at par with domestic companies.
  3. Given the lack of extraterritorial jurisdiction of the National Biodiversity Authority and its inability to monitor applications overseas though, the efficacy of such a provision will remain in doubt.
  4. Overall, one of the striking features of the regime is that it completely obliterates common property arrangements whose importance and extent in the context of the management of biological resources is still immense.
  5. The Act centralizes property rights either in the hands of the state through sovereign appropriation or in the hands of private inventors through monopoly intellectual property rights.
  6. It does not, however, provide a framework for the rights of all other holders of biological resources and related knowledge.
  7. It has been criticised that the NBA has not been able to perform satisfactorily. One of the factors responsible for this seems to be the government apathy.
  8. The Act supposedly empowers the BMCs to take decisions on conservation and control. However, the Rules severely dilute this and state that the main role and function of the BMC is to merely maintain Peoples Biodiversity Register (PBR).
  9. Even though communities create and maintain a database of their resources of knowledge, there is no requirement that their consent would be sought when it comes to accessing the information in the PBRs.

Biosphere Reserves: India’s biological diversity is immense, and efforts are being made to conserve it. Biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems which are internationally recognised within the framework of UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme. The concept recognises that human developments, conservation of social and cultural resources are as important as the biological resources for sustainability.

The Biosphere Reserve Programme is a pioneering effort designed to preserve the genetic diversity in representative ecosystems. The objectives of these reserves are:

  • to conserve diversity and integrity of plants, animals and micro-organisms;
    • to promote research on ecological conservation and other environmental aspects; and
    • to provide facilities for education, awareness and training.

The reserves recognised are required to meet a minimal set of criteria and adhere to a minimal set of conditions before being admitted to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves designated by UNESCO. The world’s major ecosystem types and landscapes are represented in this Network.

These reserves contain genetic elements evolved over millions of years that hold the key to future adaptations and survival of living organisms. The high degree of diversity and endemism and associated traditional knowledge held by the people of these reserves are the product of centuries of human innovation and experimentation. These sites are of global importance, having tremendous potential for future economic development, especially as a result of emerging new trends in biotechnology.

These reserves are rich in biological and cultural diversity and encompass unique features of exceptionally pristine nature. The goal is to facilitate conservation of representative landscapes and their immense biological diversity and cultural heritage, foster economic and human development which is culturally and ecologically sustainable, and to provide support for research, monitoring, education and information exchange.