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July 14, 1998


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Government moves afoot to protect plant varieties and farmers rights

The Union government on Tuesday informed the Supreme Court that it was taking all necessary measures to protect bio-diversity in the country.

The information was given by Attorney General Soli Sorabjee during resumed hearing of a public interest petition seeking the direction to protect bio-diversity in the country in wake of patenting of basmati rice by an American firm, Rice Tec.

The attorney general also informed the court that steps are being taken for the examination of the patents in the US. The government, he said, was also bringing out a further legislation -- Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Protection Act -- which was at the stage of formulation.

The purpose of this enactment was to ensure that foreign commercial interests did not indulge in bio-piracy of indigenous plants.

Sorabjee said that government was also formulating the Geographical Indications Act to ensure that the name of plants and animal products of Indian origin like basmati rice or Darjeeling tea were not exploited by foreign corporations.

When the bio-diversity petition, filed by the Research Foundation of Science, Technology and Ecology and two others, had come up for hearing before the summer vacations, a bench consisting of Justices A S Anand and D P Wadhwa had asked the government to inform the court about the steps being taken to protect bio-diversity in the country.

Responding to the court's earlier direction, Sorabjee informed the court that laws dealing with biological diversity were under formulation to fulfil the obligation under the international convention on bio-diversity. Sorabjee said that the draft outlines of the proposed law, already formulated, have been circulated among different ministries, expert groups and non-governmental organisations for their comments.

He said that the comments on the draft laws had already been received from Vandana Shiva, an environmental activist. The comments, along with other inputs received, would be duly taken into consideration, he said. (Shiva had recently cautioned that the proposed legislation is anti-farmer and bureaucrat-friendly).

About the patents already registered in the USA regarding basmati rice, the attorney general told the court that the government had engaged top lawyers in the field who had successfully represented India in the turmeric patent case.


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