Report of the Expert Committee on Biodiversity Legislation

India is a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which came into force on December 29, 1993. The three main objectives of the CBD are :

  1. conservation of biological diversity;
  2. sustainable use of the components of biological diversity; and
  3. fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources.

Efforts to formulate a law on biodiversity to regulate access to biological resources and to secure equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilisation of these resources have been in progress ever since India became a party to the CBD in 1994.

Following a series of interministerial consultations and discussions with experts and NGOs, a broad outline of the draft biodiversity legislation was prepared. This draft outline was discussed in a national level meeting of experts, officers of various central ministries/departments, officers of state governments and NGOs on June 10, 1997.

The Ministry of Enviroment and Forests constituted an Expert Committee under the chairmanship of Dr M S Swaminathan to propose a suitable draft for biodiversity legislation. The members of the committee included secretaries of Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Department of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE), Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and Department of Ocean Development (DOD), Ministry of Law experts and NGO representatives. The committee considered the following principles while drafting the outline of the legislation:

  1. The Act should be an umbrella Act.
  2. The Act should enable the country to safeguard its sovereign rights over its biological diversity.
  3. Undesirable fetters on research and development in the country should not be imposed.
  4. Use of biological resources and knowledge relating to them by people should continue without any stifling restrictions.
  5. The Act should reflect the spirit of all the three objectives of the CBD.
  6. Enough flexibility be ensured to allow the systems to evolve.
  7. The Act should be an effective instrument in achieving equitable sharing of benefits.

The committee deliberated the matter in four sittings and came up with an outline on the proposed biodiversity legislation. The outline proposes to govern the following to ensure conservation, sustainable utilisation of biological diversity and fair and equitable sharing of benefits:

  1. Access to biological resources and information related thereto.
  2. Benefit sharing with conservers of biological resources/ creators and holders of knowledge and information relating to the use of biological resources.
  3. Notification of areas important from the standpoint of biological diversity as biological heritage sites.
  4. Protection of threatened species.
  5. Involvement of local bodies in the sustainable management of biodiversity and the preparation of biodiversity registers.
  6. Establishment of a national biodiversity authority at the national level, state biodiversity boards at the state level and biodiversity management committees at the block/village level to implement the legislation.

The proposed outline protects the rights of traditional users and local people to the use of biological resources. It also protects the free access of Indian survey, research and academic institutions to biological resources as well as traditional users of medicinal and other economic plants. The proposed Act provides for establishing a national biodiversity authority, state biodiversity boards and biodiversity management committees for implementing the legislation. It further recognises all agreements entered into by government departments/ agencies after a due process of examination.

The Ministry is examining the outline in consultation with other ministries/departments and taking further steps to finalise and introduce a Bill in the next session of Parliament.

This report was released during the press conference held at Shastri Bhawan, New Delhi on October 27, 1997.