Business dialogues on Access and Benefit-sharing held at Hyderabad and Chennai in January 2019

23 Jan, 2019

The implementation of access and benefit-sharing (ABS) in India came into force in 2004 following the notification of Biological Diversity Rules, 2004. Rule 14 prescribes the application procedure for access to biological resources and associated traditional knowledge. The Guidelines on Access to Biological Resources and Associated Knowledge and Benefits Sharing Regulations, 2014 further provides the mode of benefit-sharing and procedures for various regulated activities such as research, commercial utilisation, bio-survey and bio-utilisation, Intellectual Property Rights, and transfer of research results.

Although the ABS provisions of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 have been implemented for more than a decade, the number of applications for access to biological resources from users have been very low. This has been attributed to lack of awareness on the existence of the Act that governs the use of biological resources, as well as its application procedure.

The ABS Partnership Project—implemented by National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), Chennai, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), New Delhi and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, New Delhi—has been proactively engaging with users of biological resources since 2018, through workshops and dialogues. These were held in Chennai and New Delhi in April 2018. Based on the outcome of these dialogues, a second round of dialogues with users and regulators was held in January 2019. These dialogues focused mainly on sector-specific issues involving biotechnology, agri-biotechnology, and fragrance companies. The dialogues were held on 21 January 2019 at Hyderabad and 23 January 2019 at Chennai; and were moderated by Ms. Maria Julia Oliva, Deputy Director, Union for Ethical BioTrade, The Netherlands.

Prof. M. S. Swaminathan with participants at Chennai

Discussions at the workshop in Hyderabad

The workshops served as a platform for companies to strengthen their understanding of requirements and procedures under the Biological Diversity Act, its Rules and Guidelines, as well as learn and draw suggestions for improvement from the practical experiences of businesses in navigating the legislation. The workshops engaged over 90 participants at Hyderabad and Chennai representing different companies working in India.

The workshop at Chennai was pleased to host Professor. M. S. Swaminathan, Founder, M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai, who also interacted with the participants. He highlighted ABS as a method for businesses to reward primary conservers of biological resources, to ensure continued sustainability in all bio-resource businesses. Dr. B. Meenakumari, Chairperson, NBA, Chennai, Dr. Sujata Arora, Senior Advisor, MoEFCC, New Delhi and Dr. Amarjeet Ahuja, IAS (Retd) interacted with the participants at the workshop in Chennai.

Dr. Konrad Uebelhör, Director, Indo-German Biodiversity Programme, welcomed the participants and provided a brief overview of the international framework on ABS and the role of GIZ in implementing the Act and Rules in India. He also highlighted India and Germany’s long history of cooperation in the development sector.

Dr. Konrad Uebelhor and Mr. Rabikumar in Chennai

Dr.Achalender Reddy and Dr. Konrad Uebelhor in Hyderabad

Dr. Achalender Reddy, IFS, PCCF and Director, Centre for Innovations in Public Systems, inaugurated the workshop at Hyderabad. He highlighted the need for conservation of India’s biodiversity through compliance with the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. He also emphasised the role of NBA in sensitising the stakeholders, to adopt and implement the Act, its Rules and associated Guidelines.

At Chennai, Mr. T. Rabikumar, IFS, Secretary, NBA described NBA’s role as a facilitator as well as a regulator of the Biological Diversity Act, its Rules and associated ABS Guidelines. He emphasised the need for continued interactions between the regulators and stakeholders to help with compliance; as receiving input from businesses complying with the Act will help NBA ease the ABS process.

Technical sessions focused on international framework on biodiversity, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and Nagoya Protocol, was provided by Ms. Maria Julia Oliva along with a general overview of the variety of domestic legislature in different countries Party to the Convention. Dr. Geetha Nayak, GIZ, provided an overview on the ABS framework in India, and highlighted aspects such as exemptions under the Act and the application process involved.

Participants engaged in discussions at Hyderabad

Participants in discussion at Chennai

Group discussions were facilitated for the participants to share their experiences on compliance with the Act and identify plausible solutions to various challenges faced by users during the application process. This highlighted a variety of procedural and interpretational challenges faced by many businesses when complying with the Act. Proposals on creating a user-friendly online application portal, the potential for speeding up the timelines for access to resources with seasonal availability, sector-specific guidelines on implementing the Act and its Rules were discussed and presented to the regulators. Other discussions focused on definitions of proprietary material, collaborating projects, normally traded as commodities, value-added products and conventional breeding, among others.

Participants expressed their interest in arriving at a consensus on these discussions to facilitate ABS requirements. Participants also highlighted positive experiences in complying with ABS requirements and appreciated the efforts of NBA and GIZ India for providing a platform for dialogue.

Follow-up interactions with traders—to establish traceability of traded biological resources and compliance with the Act, and training for businesses on filing of e-applications—are scheduled in February 2019.

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