The American Bio-Industry Alliance (ABIA), a non-governmental organization that lobbies on behalf of the biotech industry in the US and a few other governments, has accused India of forfeiting benefits of its immense bio-diversity by keeping exploratory activities under complex regulatory processes.
“The international researchers now see India as one of several national regulatory tangles to be avoided for natural products research,” says an ABIA spokesperson. In this context, the alliance has now sought a dialogue with India on policies for genetic resources and related traditional knowledge.
India, with only 2.5% of the world’s area, is home to more than 8% of the world’s bio-diversity. With two of the world’s total 25 biodiversity “hotspots” located in Eastern Himalayas and Western Ghats, India is currently considered as a mega-diverse country. “However, the regulatory systems in the country neither promote sustainable use of bio-diverse resources nor do they generate meaningful economic benefits,” says Susan K. Finston, executive director, ABIA.
The current Indian law pertaining to biodiversity research and patenting has established a central body, National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), with overall responsibility for processing access applications and regulating developments resulting from the use of genetic resources obtained in India. The law and regulations require NBA approval for the transfer of genetic resources research results to foreigners for any commercial purposes. It also requires prior NBA approval before a filing a patent application. These have created bureaucratic hurdles for the researcher, alleges ABIA.
Patent experts in India however note that growing commercial interests in new developments in biotechnology have led to pressure being exerted on WTO member states to provide better patent protection in this area. But the patent law in India has been drafted to avoid creating a monopoly on traditonal knowledge, and aggregation or duplication of such knowledge as it relates to plants, animals or other living forms for commercial expolitation. As per Indian law, these are not patentable.
India has initiated a major project, the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library, to document its traditional knowledge and biodiverse resources in herbs and medicines. But “the country’s current approach has delivered little benefit to the environment and has discouraged commercialization that could benefit the tribal communities that hold the associated traditional knowledge”, ABIA said.