Current Affairs – 18 December 2021

Biological Diversity Bill 2021

The Hindu

GS 3: Environment and Conservation

Context:

  • The Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was introduced as a Bill in the Lok Sabha by Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav recently.

About Bill:

  • The Bill relax certain rules in the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 in order to fast track research and patenting as well as empower local communities to be able to utilise resources, particularly of medicinal value, such as seeds.
  • The amended Bill was drafted in response to complaints by traditional Indian medicine practitioners, seed sector, and industry and researchers that the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 imposed a heavy “compliance burden” and made it hard to conduct collaborative research and investments and simplify patent application processes.
    • The Act was enacted for conservation of biological diversity and ensure fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the use of biological resources with indigenous and local communities.

  • The text of the Bill also says that it proposes to “widen the scope of levying access and benefit sharing with local communities and for further conservation of biological resources.”
  • The amendments also allow for foreign investment in research in biodiversity – but this investment will necessarily have to be made through Indian companies involved in biodiversity research.
  • The amendments also streamline the process of Patenting for Indian researchers to encourage patenting and therefore the Ministry has also proposed that regional Patenting centres be opened across the country.
  • The bill focuses on regulating who can access biological resources and knowledge and how access will be monitored. Ayush practitioners have been exempted from the ambit of the Act, a huge move because the Ayush industry benefits greatly from biological resources in India.
  • The role of state biodiversity boards has been strengthened and better clarified in the bill.
  • The amendments are also aimed at promoting the cultivation of medicinal plants and ancient Indian medicine by exempting Indians cultivating medicinal plants and manufacturing products using codified traditional knowledge from payment of Access and benefit sharing.
  • This will also reduce the pressure on forests and benefit farmers by getting extra income through cultivation of medicinal plants.
  • Violations of the law related to access to biological resources and benefit-sharing with communities, which are currently treated as criminal offences and are non-bailable, have been proposed to be made civil offences.

What is access and benefit-sharing?

  • Under the Convention of Biological Diversity, and the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing to which India is a party, it is mandated that benefits derived from the use of biological resources are shared in a fair and equitable manner among the indigenous and local communities.
  • When an Indian or foreign company or individual accesses biological resources such as medicinal plants and associated knowledge, it has to take prior consent from the national biodiversity board.
  • The board can impose a benefit-sharing fee or royalty or impose conditions so that the company shares the monetary benefit from commercial utilisation of these resources with local people who are conserving biodiversity in the region.

Views in favour:

  • It also seeks to give a fillip to “Indian system of medicine”, and facilitate fast-tracking of research, patent application process, transfer of research results while utilising the biological resources available in India — “without compromising the objectives of United Nation Convention on Biological Diversity and its Nagoya Protocol”.
  • The amendments seek to decriminalise certain provisions and bring more foreign investments in the chain of biological resources, including research, patent and commercial utilisation, without compromising the national interest.
  • Amendment is necessary because on 4th Oct 2012, India ratified Nagoya Protocol on access to generic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilization.

Why bill is opposed?

  • Environmentalists have expressed concern over amendments on the grounds that it prioritises intellectual property and commercial trade at the expense of the Act’s key aim of conserving biological resources.
  • There was not a “single provision in the proposed amendment to protect, conserve or increase the stake of local communities in the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity.”
  • The Bill in the current form would pave the way for “bio piracy” and would mean AYUSH manufacturing companies would no longer need to take approvals and thus defeat the purpose for which the Act was created in the first place.
  • It is detrimental to ecology and go against the principle of sharing commercial benefits with indigenous communities.
  • The Biological Diversity Amendment Bill 2021 has been introduced without seeking public comments as required under the pre-legislative consultative policy.
  • The bill has excluded the term “bio-utilisation.” Bio-utilization is an important element in the Act. Leaving out bio utilization would leave out an array of activities like characterization, inventorisation and bioassay which are undertaken with commercial motive.

 

Prison Population

The Hindu

GS 2: Social Empowerment, Issues Arising Out of Design & Implementation of Policies

Context:

  • The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) report was recently released and it stated that prison population had in the 24 states increased from 4,00,268 to 4,55,886.

About:

  • The prison population increased by 14% from December 31, 2019 till November 12 this year.
  • This is a huge jump from the 2% to 4% annual increase in prison population each year since 2015 to 2019
  • The occupancy of prisons had increased from 115% to 133%, while the COVID-19 pandemic raged.
  • The proportion of undertrials increased from 69% to 77%. The year 2020 witnessed nearly 9 lakh more arrests than 2019 despite lockdowns and extensive restrictions on movement of general public
  • India’s already overcrowded prisons are struggling to cater to the needs of prisoners. Increased arrests, delays in hearing of bail applications, and suspension of regular court work have resulted in this precarious situation.

Prison in India:

  • Prison is a facility in which individuals are forcibly confined and denied a variety of freedoms under the authority of the State as a form of punishment.
  • Prison is a State subject under List-II of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India.
  • The management and administration of Prisons falls exclusively in the domain of the State Governments, and is governed by the Prisons Act, 1894 and the Prison Manuals of the respective State Governments.

Issues:

  • Overcrowding in jails can impact the strained prison resources of the country, leading to further spread of the coronavirus as well as other communicable diseases.
  • The prison population is increasing which in turn deteriorate the prison conditions. This goes against the Nelson Mandela Rules, 2015, which calls upon governments to ensure that “the prison regime should seek to minimize any differences between prison life and life at liberty that tend to lessen the responsibility of the prisoners or the respect due to their dignity as human beings.”
  • Legal aid lawyers are poorly paid, and often over-burdened with cases. Further, there is no monitoring mechanism to evaluate the quality of legal aid representation in most states.
  • Prison structures in India are in dilapidated condition. Further, lack of space, poor ventilation, poor sanitation and hygiene make living conditions deplorable in Indian prisons.
  • The living conditions in prisons for vulnerable groups like women, foreign national prisoners, people suffering from mental illness and transgender and persons with disability are even worse.

Way ahead:

  • The CHRI called upon the Supreme Court, state governments, prison authorities, human rights bodies and legal institutions to work towards decongesting the country’s jails.
  • It called upon the National Human Rights Commission to conduct regular inspection of overcrowded jails by deploying dedicated rapporteurs and prison monitors.
  • There is a dire need to address the issue of overcrowding in Indian jails. Further, sincere efforts should be made to improve living conditions which include better sanitation and hygiene, adequate food and clothing.

 

52 Habeas Corpus Petitions

The Hindu

GS 2: Fundamental rights

Context:

  • A total of 52 petitions relating to “habeas corpus matters” are pending in the Supreme Court as on December 13, Law Minister Kiren Rijiju informed the Lok Sabha recently.
  • At the end of 2020, 53 such cases were pending in the top court; there had been 40 cases at the end of 2019; and there were 43 such cases at the end of 2018.

What is this writ?

  • A habeas corpus is a writ used to challenge the unlawful detention or imprisonment of a person and protects fundamental rights.
  • It literally means “to produce the body”.
  • The petitions for habeas corpus determine whether the individual has been arrested according to the procedure established by law.
  • It is one of the five writs through which an individual can approach the Supreme Court or the High Courts for the implementation of his fundamental rights.
  • It acts as a procedural safeguard against the law enforcement authorities, specifically their power to take into custody.
  • It is not issued where the:
    • Detention is lawful,
    • Proceeding is for contempt of a legislature or a court,
    • Detention is by a competent court, and
    • Detention is outside the jurisdiction of the court.