Environmentalists seek legal protection for People’s Biodiversity Registers

Environmentalists have sought legal protection for the People’s Biodiversity Registers (PBRs), being promoted by the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 to ensure protection from biopiracy.

Welcoming the model of PBRs being projected by the National Biodiversity Authority, particularly its promotion of local adaptability, its potential use as a community-based planning tool, and for linking it to the new laws such as indicated in the draft rules of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers Act to document indigenous knowledge of communities, they, however, point out that the move to integrate PBRs into a national database without either providing them legal protection or ensuring effective community control, enhanced the risk of biopiracy.

According to the Campaign for Community Control over Biodiversity, the NBA is promoting “its” PBRs as the only methodology for documentation across the country. These are manuals that have been prepared by the Expert Committee on Database on Biodiversity and Traditional Knowledge and are meant to document knowledge in a way that will make it possible to consolidate them into a national database.

While the PBRs are supposed to be prepared by Biodiversity Management Committees in each panchayat, there are still no guidelines on how such committees are to be formed. “This is of concern because such committees should not become parallel institutions to the gram sabha and other existing village bodies, and care has to be taken that they are not a conduit for further biopiracy,” the activists point out. Further, the Campaign says that though there is potential for documentation of biodiversity and related knowledge as a means to conservation, this needs to be voluntary and not imposed upon local communities. The capacity of communities to handle such documentation needs to be built before embarking upon a nationwide exercise.

The same is the case when it comes to linking their existing or ongoing documentation or the PBRs to any database. This concern has been expressed in the wake of the traditional knowledge being commercialised and exploited by wealthy nations and large corporates, especially through the Intellectual Property Rights systems such as patents.

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