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July 23, 1998


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Report stresses need for legal system to protect India's biodiversity

There is an urgent need to evolve a legal system to protect India's biodiversity in order to prevent biopiracy through patenting by developed countries, according to a report prepared by the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in Dehra Dun, Uttar Pradesh.

More than one hundred Indian plants, besides neem and turmeric, have already been patented by developed countries and this trend would continue if India did not chalk out a clear strategy to protect its precious bioresources, senior research officer Afsar H Jafri says in the recently completed document.

Fourteen patents have already been granted by the US patents office on mustard, seven on castor, four on amla, three each for cassia and kumari and two for bitter gourd, black cumin, jatropha and jacknight shade for their various properties, says the report.

The report lists 22 medicinal and agricultural plants including karela, ritha, amaltas, pomegranate, balsam and Rangoon creeper that have been patented by American and European countries. The US tops the list with the maximum number of patents for Indian plants followed by Japan, Canada, France, Germany and the UK. Other plants patented by these countries include arjun, harad, guruchi, vilayeti shisham and chottagokhuru.

''In the absence of a protection system for biodiversity and indigenous knowledge systems, and with the encroaching universalism of western-style intellectual property rights regime, intellectual and biological piracy is growing,'' says the report.

The diversity of knowledge needs to be recognised and respected, and a pluralistic IPR regime needs to be evolved which makes it possible to recognise and respect indigenous knowledge systems and practices and livelihood based on it, Jafri says.

In India, common resource knowledge based innovations have been passed on for centuries to new generations and adopted for newer uses, and these innovations have been absorbed into the common pool of knowledge about that resource. This common pool of knowledge has contributed immeasurably to the vast agricultural and medicinal plant diversity that exists in the country today.

It is thus crucial that community-held and utilised bio-diversity knowledge systems are accorded legal recognition as the ''common property'' owned by the communities concerned, the report stresses.

The Convention on Bio-Diversity represents the boldest move in the direction of recognising indigenous knowledge traditions and innovations, says the author of the report.


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