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Environmentalists attack the government over two ‘anti-environment’ amendment bills

Environmentalists attack the government over two ‘anti-environment’ amendment bills

New Delhi, Dec 19 :Environmentalists have criticised the Environment, Forests and Climate Change Ministry for bringing about two amendment bills that are “detrimental” to the cause of environment in general, and wildlife in particular.

On Thursday, Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav introduced the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2121, and another one to amend Wild Life (Protection) Act, 72 on Friday in Lok Sabha. Both bills were introduced amid opposition parties’ noise about the SIT report/investigation on the Lakhimpur Kheri case. In both cases, the house adjourned quickly and there was no discussion.

The government claimed that the biodiversity amendment bill had been introduced after Indian practitioners of medicine, researchers and the seeds sector raised concerns about compliance. However, the bill to amend the Wildlife Act was needed due to the requirement vis-a -vis the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

The text of the bill introduced in the Parliament claimed that the stakeholders wanted reduced compliance burden “in order to encourage a conducive environment for collaborative research and investments, simplify patent application process, widen the scope of levying access and benefit sharing with local communities and for further conservation of biological resources”.

The amendments to the wildlife protection act contained a claim that the government would set up Standing Committees of State Boards of Wildlife to function as the National Board for Wildlife. This board is responsible for monitoring wildlife-protected areas and granting or denying permission for projects that pose a threat to wildlife.

IANS sought to know experts’ opinions on the two bills.

Pointing out that the implications of these amendments need to explained and debated in detail both within and outside the Parliament, Kanchi Kohli, researcher with the Centre for Policy and Research (CPR), said, “There are important changes like including the NITI Aayog on the NBWL. The NITI Aayog’s recent proposals for infrastructure expansion are in direct conflict with some of the most ecologically and wildlife sensitive areas in India, especially the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Lakshadweep Islands. This would be an opportunity for the NITI Aayog to directly influence the decisions of the NBWL, which may not be desirable.”

Terming it as “a Bill aimed to facilitate the destruction of India’s Biodiversity and usurp people’s right”, legal advocacy firm, Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) had tweeted: “The main focus of the Bill is to facilitate the trade in biodiversity as opposed to conservation, protection of biodiversity and knowledge of the local communities. The amendments are completely contrary to the aim and objective of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002.”

LIFE also noted that the Biodiversity bill exempted medicinal plants grown in cultivation from the act’s purview, but it is difficult to discern which plants are wild and which have been cultivated.

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“This provision, though on the face of it looks benign, will only allow large companies to evade the requirement of both, prior approval or share the benefit with local communities,” the initial assessment statement by LIFE said.

Kohli added: “The WLPA is a legislation which has been understood largely in expert circles, even though its clauses related to protected areas and wildlife trade have far reaching implications. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought a spotlight on zoonotics, which directly speaks to the changes regulating international trade through a dedicated section in the proposed law.”

“The management mechanisms could gain from building in this aspect and also reconciling them with the Biological Diversity Act, which is also under discussion in the Parliament,” she said.

A day after the Environment Minister introduced the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 in the Lok Sabha, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh on Friday had expressed “strongest possible protest” that the government referred the Bill to a Select Committee and not to the Parliamentary Standing Committee.(IANS)

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