In December 2021, the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was introduced in Lok Sabha, and was subsequently referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee. The Bill seeks to amend the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 to:
- Encourage the Indian system of medicine and cultivation of wild medicinal plants,
- Facilitate fast-tracking of processes for research, patent application, and transfer of research results,
- Decriminalise offences, and
- Encourage foreign investment in the sector. The Bill also amends the Act to include references to the Nagoya Protocol.
- Access to biological resources and associated knowledge: The Act requires prior approval or intimation to the regulatory authority based on the origin of the entity for obtaining biological resources occurring in India or associated knowledge. The regulatory authorities under the Act for these purposes are National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) and State Biodiversity Boards (SBB).
- Approval for Intellectual Property Rights (IPR): The Act specifies that approval of NBA is required before: (i) applying for IPR involving biological resources obtained from India, or (ii) sealing of patent. The Bill provides that approval will be required before the grant of IPR instead of before the application itself. The Bill specifies distinct approval processes based on the origin of the entity. Foreign entities as specified above will require approval from NBA whereas domestic entities will be required to register with NBA. However, domestic entities will need approval from NBA at the time of commercialisation of IPR. The Bill also extends the approval requirement to IPR on associated knowledge.
- Benefit sharing: Under the Act, NBA is required to determine terms of benefit sharing while granting approvals for various activities. Benefit sharing refers to requiring applicants to share monetary and non-monetary benefits with benefit claimers and local people. Benefit claimers are conservers of biodiversity, or creators or holders of associated traditional knowledge. The Act makes benefit sharing provisions applicable to research, commercial utilisation, as well as bio-survey and bio-utilisation for certain entities. The Bill removes its applicability from research, and bio-survey and bio-utilisation. The Bill adds that SBB will determine benefit sharing while granting approvals to domestic entities as per the regulations by NBA. The Act provides that the terms for benefit sharing should be in accordance with the mutually agreed terms and conditions between the applicant, local bodies concerned, and the benefit claimers. The Bill instead provides that the terms should be in accordance with the mutually agreed terms between the applicant and the Biodiversity Management Committee (BMC) represented by NBA.
- Offences and Penalties: Under the Act, offences include failing to take approval or providing prior intimation for various activities. These offences are punishable with imprisonment of up to five years, or a fine, or both. The Bill decriminalises the offences and makes offences punishable with a penalty between one lakh rupees and Rs 50 lakh. Continuing contravention may attract an additional penalty of up to one crore rupees. An adjudicating officer of at least the rank of Joint Secretary of the central government or the rank of Secretary of the state government will hold the inquiry and determine the penalty.