The National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), the autonomous and statutory body of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India, commemorated its 50th Authority meeting in its headquarters at Chennai on December 11. The meeting discussed NBA’s progress in implementing the Biological Diversity (BD) Act, 2002, and its provisions over the last 15 years, challenges faced as well as scope for increased awareness among all stakeholders of bio-resources in the country. The meeting was well attended by representatives from government, industry, institutions and academia.
Dr. Sujata Arora, Adviser/Scientist-‘G’, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, New Delhi, noted: “India is ahead of sharing equity and benefits sharing of bio-resources.” The BD Act is a comprehensive and progressive Act that is inclusive, participatory and considers all stakeholders of bio-resources in the country. “We are much ahead of developed countries in terms of expansive and participatory nature of the provisions of the BD Act. As a result, India is contributing lessons learned at an international level when it comes to conserving biodiversity as well as fair and equitable access and benefit sharing,” she added.
Need for increased awareness among all stakeholders and the common man
Concerns were raised on bio-safety reach to the common man, and the need for proactive State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) across the country. The 50th Authority meeting discussed the lack of understanding of provisions of the BD Act among several sections of society and the resulting absence of ownership of conserving local bio-resources. The responsibility, it was felt, rests with each individual citizen but poor awareness is a hindrance.
In this context, NBA and the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) have collaborated in a series of awareness raising initiatives, especially with media persons. Several capacity strengthening workshops have been co-organised on coastal biodiversity, forest biodiversity and agro-diversity in Wayand district (Kerala) and Kakinada district (Andhra Pradesh). These initiatives encouraged a better understanding of the BD Act and its provisions, and contexualising them with local environment issues for enhanced general public understanding.
Consensus on empowerment of local governance bodies
There was also consensus that local governance bodies must be sufficiently empowered to bridge the gap between legislation and actual implementation at grassroots level. At the Gram Panchayat level, the Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) are responsible for the preservation, equitable sharing of benefits, and sustainable use of bio-resources implementation under the Act, but more needs to be done to build understanding around the Biological Diversity (BD) Act 2002 and its provisions.
Latest 2018 data from NBA indicates that 26 states now have SBBs and BMCs, and there is huge jump in the number of BMCs. In 2016, there were 41,180 BMCs and as of November 2018, there are 74,575. These numbers must to be followed up by empowering the BMCs to mainstream biodiversity conservation efforts within the structure of local development in the state.
Implementing the National Biodiversity Action Plan is challenging and calls for active involvement of multiple Ministries. But people’s participation remains central to its successful implementation with active support at the individual citizen level. The Community Agro-biodiversity Centre of MSSRF located in Wayand District, Kerala, is an example of how strengthening local self-governments (Gram Panchayats) could facilitate integration of biodiversity conservation in the local development plans.