Indian activists demand dissolution of NBA Expert Committee

by GRAIN | 7 May 2009

TITLE: Indian activists demand dissolution of NBA Expert Committee AUTHOR: Campaign for conservation and community control over biodiversity PUBLICATION: Press release and letter DATE: 5 May 2009


Campaign for Conservation and Community Control over Biodiversity New Delhi, May 5th 2009

"SERIOUS OBJECTIONS AGAINST NATIONAL BIODIVERSITY AUTHORITY'S EXPERT COMMITTEE RECOMMENDING APPROVALS FOR ACCESS"

The National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) is under increasing pressure from civil society groups from all over the country over the constitution and functioning of an Expert Committee set up by it for evaluating applications for access to biological resources and for seeking patents. Releasing a letter to the NBA Chair endorsed by prominent organizations from different states, concerned activists pointed out that this Expert Committee in its very composition and functioning beats the objective of defending community's bio-resources and knowledge and demanded an immediate scrapping of the Expert Committee.

The Expert Committee for Evaluation of Applications for Access, Seeking Patent, Transfer of Research Results and Third Party Transfer of Bio-resources has granted 335 approvals so far without the mandatory consultations with community level bodies to be set up under the Biological Diversity Act (BDA) 2002, the letter to the NBA points out. This legal violation has been pointed out earlier too, with no clear action from the NBA to uphold community rights as prescribed by law.

Further, the Expert Committee's composition with representation of private corporations like Syngenta and of agencies which are also applying for access or patents is clearly wrought with unjust conflicting interests. Syngenta is involved in attempted bio-piracy cases in the past and its presence on the Expert Committee is severely objectionable, the activists stated. The composition of the Committee fails to incorporate conservation or community interests, the letter points out. The functioning of the Expert Committee is not transparent or independent or devoid of conflict of interest and lacks accountability to the citizens of India.

This Expert Committee's composition, design and functioning at a fundamental level defeat the very objective of the Act to protect and conserve our bio-resources and knowledge, the activists said. Civil society groups have now demanded an immediate dissolution of the Expert Committee, along with cancellation of all approvals granted till date. They also wanted an immediate freeze on any further approvals till the issues raised about the violations of the law and of objectionable composition/functioning of the Expert Committee are addressed.

For more information, contact: Kanchi Kohli, Kalpavriksh at kanchikohli(at)gmail.com Kavitha Kuruganti, Kheti Virasat Mission at kavitha.kuruganti(at)gmail.com


Campaign for Conservation and Community Control over Biodiversity Address for Correspondence: 134, Tower 10, Supreme Enclave Mayur Vihar Phase- I, Delhi- 110091, Tel: 011- 22753714

24th April 2009

To:

Dr P.L. Gautam Chairman National Biodiversity Authority Chennai.

Subject: Issues of legal violations, bias, conflict of interest and lack of independent decision making relating to the Expert Committee for Evaluation of Applications for Access, Seeking Patent, Transfer of Research Results and Third Party Transfer of Bioresources

Dear Dr. Gautam,

The grant of approvals for access to biological resources for research and commercial use, third party transfer of material and research as well as permissions for IPRs is a very sensitive and critical task that the NBA has been authorised to perform under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. We have regularly communicated to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) as well as the NBA that the current process of granting approvals is extremely centralised, with little or no space for participation by local community as well as civil society in the decision making process. Moreover, none of the 335 approvals granted by the NBA has followed the mandatory requirement of "consultations" with the Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) as prescribed in Section 41(2) of the Act. You may recall that this was discussed at the National Workshop on the BD Act organised by National Forum for Policy Dialogue and Kalpavriksh on 3rd February, 2009 in New Delhi.

Today, we are writing to you to express deep shock and concern about the composition of current and previous Expert Committees which have the responsibility to scrutinise the applications for access, transfer and IPRs related to Biodiversity. This Committee has been constituted thrice since October 2005. The present Committee has been working since February 2008 and is valid till date. The composition of the last two Committees is highly objectionable, as it goes totally against the spirit of just and independent decision making. We say this for the following critical reasons:

1. Presence of Private Companies (& their representatives): The representation of Syngenta India Ltd on such a crucial body is completely unacceptable, for it is, like any other private corporation, interested in profits by accessing Indian biodiversity and would not be a neutral person in deciding access applications. Additionally, as you are aware, Syngenta is one of the pioneers in promoting genetic engineering in agriculture, a technology that only propagates the destruction of agro-biodiversity by potential contamination, monocultures and corporate control. Syngenta India has also been involved in known biopiracy cases in the state of Chhatisgarh and other parts of the country. It is then truly shocking that those either representing commercial interests or destruction of biodiversity find place in a Committee that scrutinises access applications.

2. Representation of only Government and Government-affiliated Institutions: The composition of the present and previous Committees only has Government of India Departments such as Department of Science and Technology, NBPGR, NBAGR, NIO, NRC on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, CSIR, Centre for Plant Protection Studies and so on. There is not a single person from local communities, farmers' groups, conservation organisations, political parties or NGOs working on related issues. Is this Committee only to push for the mandate and requirement of Government of India institutions and private corporations? Surely such a Committee must have members who would independently view access applications from the perspective of impacts of the proposed access on biodiversity conservation and on local communities. A composition of only government officials and corporation representatives, especially in a situation when access applications are mostly from government agencies and private corporations (also see the next point), is inevitably going to fail in an independent assessment of such applications. Is such a composition which fails to incorporate conservation and community interests, by design?

3. Conflict of Interest: Almost all the institutions or departments who are part of the said Committee have also sent in applications for consideration of access, transfer or IPR. The members of the present Committee have met four times since its constitution. This was on 8.4.2008, 16.7.2008 11.11.2008 and 23.1.2009. During this period there have been 9 applications by NBPGR, 6 by DARE, 2 by the Centre for Tuber Crop Research Institute, 2 from NIO, 2 by NRC on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants. Applications from CSIR and DBT were also considered.

A similar picture emerges with regard to the applications considered by the previous Expert Committee whose tenure was August 2007 to February 2008. There was only one meeting of this Committee (August 2007). With an Emeritus Scientist of CSIR on the Committee, 126 approvals for Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) of CSIR were considered and approved.

On 20.6.2006 when the application for third party transfer by Syngenta was approved, the consultant of the company was sitting on the Committee.

In none of these meetings is there evidence that the relevant members stepped out of the meeting when applications from their organisations were considered. There is also no indication that such members did not have the right to vote as per Section 13(2) of the Act. Even if they were disallowed from voting, of which there is no evidence, all this indicates a serious conflict of interest, which should have been detected and corrected long ago.

We feel that the composition and entire functioning of the Access Committee displays a blatant disregard for free and independent decision-making and lack of transparency and accountability to the citizens of India and at a fundamental level defeats the objective of protection and conservation of our bio-resources and knowledge.

This is in addition to the violation we have already pointed out, in that none of these approvals followed the mandatory requirement of carrying out consultations with BMCs or local bodies that are to set up BMCs. This is an outright violation of the law.

Given these facts we demand: 1. Immediate dissolution of the Expert Committee on Access and reconstituting it with members who represent conservation and local community interests. Institutions that have been making access applications or are doing work that is likely to lead to applications, should not be represented on the committees. In future if any member happens to belong to a group making an access application, such a fact must be immediately made public, and this member must not take part in the decision on that application. 2. Cancel all the approvals granted till date on the grounds that they have not followed the mandatory requirement of Section 41(2), and many have involved serious conflict of interest. 3. Recover any fees or allowances paid to such private consultants or companies as Committee members 4. Freeze any further approvals till the above issues are addressed.

We look forward to your immediate action and response in this regard.

Sincerely,

1. A.C.Zonunmawia, Centre for Environment Protection (CEP), Aizawl
2. Archana Prasad, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
3. Arpan Sharma, Samrakshan Trust, New Delhi
4. Arun Ambatipudi, Chetna Organic Farmers Association, Hyderabad
5. Aruna Rodrigues, Sunray Harvesters, Mhow, Madhya Pradesh
6. Bharat Mansata, Earthcare Books, Mumbai
7. Bhaskar Goswami, Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security, New Delhi
8. Claude Alvares, Organic Farming Association of India (OFAI) & Goa Foundation, Goa
9. D Narayan, Organic Farmer, Ganjam, Orissa
10. Debjeet Sarangi, Living Farms, Bhubaneswar
11. Dr Amarsingh Azad & Dr G P I Singh, Environmental Health Action Group, Punjab
12. Dr G Nammalvar, Nammalvar Ecological Foundation, Trichy, Tamil Nadu
13. Dr G V Ramanjaneyulu, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad
14. Dr N K Sanghi, Advisor, WASSAN, Hyderabad
15. Dr Sagari Ramdas, ANTHRA, Hyderabad
16. Dr Shambu Prasad, Science & Society Studies Expert, Bhubaneswar
17. Dunu Roy, Hazards Centre, New Delhi
18. Jagannath Chatterjee, Social Worker, Bhubaneswar
19. Kalanjium Women Farmer's Association, Tamilnadu
20. Kanchi Kohli, Kalpavriksh & Campaign for Conservation and Community Control over Biodiversity, New Delhi
21. Kapil Shah, Jatan Trust & Organic Farming Association of Gujarat, Vadodara, Gujarat
22. Kavitha Kuruganti & Umendra Dutt, Kheti Virasat Mission, Punjab
23. Madhu Sarin, Environmentalist, Chandigarh
24. Madhumita Dutta, Corporate Accountability Desk, Chennai
25. Meenakshi Subramaniam, Social activist, Kerala
26. M V Sastri, Knowledge in Civil Society (KICS), Hyderabad
27. Nidhi Kaushik, CECOEDECON, Jaipur
28. Nilesh Desai, Beej Swaraj Abhiyan, Jhabua, MP
29. Nitin Rai, ATREE, Bangalore
30. Nityanand Jayaraman, Vettiver Collective, Chennai
31. Pandurang Hegde, Appiko, Sirsi, Karnataka
32. Prasant Mohanty, Vasundhara, Bhubaneswar
33. P V Satheesh, Deccan Development Society, Pastapur, Andhra Pradesh
34. Rachna Dhingra, Bhopal Group for Information & Action, Bhopal
35. Rajesh Krishnan, Greenpeace India, Bangalore
36. Ramesh Agrawal, Jan Chetana, Raigarh
37. Rashida Bee, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh, Bhopal
38. Ratnakar Sahu, Organic Farmer, Bolangir, Orissa
39. S Usha, Thanal, Trivandrum
40. Sangita Sharma, Anna Dana Soil & Seed Savers Network, Bangalore
41. Satinath Sarangi, Sambhavna Trust, Bhopal
42. Satish Natarajan, Sahaja Samruddha, Bangalore
43. Selva Ganapathy, Association for India's Development-Delhi Chapter, New Delhi
44. Selvam Ramaswamy, Erode Organic Farmers Association, Erode, Tamil Nadu
45. Sheelu, Tamilnadu Women's Collective, Chennai
46. Shweta Narayan, Community Environmental Monitoring, Chennai
47. Siba Prasad Sahu, Ahimsa Club, Bargarh, Orissa
48. Simanchal Nayak, RRM, Chhatrapur, Orissa
49. Sundari, Tamilnadu Resource Team, Tamilnadu
50. Syed M Irfan, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, Bhopal
51. Udaya Shankar, Centre for People's Forestry, Hyderabad
52. Utkarsh Sinha, Centre for Contemporary Studies & Research/Hamara Beej Abhiyan, Lucknow
52. Venkat T, Youth for Social Change, Chennai
53. Walter D'Souza, Centre for Documentation, Bangalore

CC: Vijai Sharma, Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Paryavaran Bhawan, New Delhi

Author: GRAIN