Author: Anshu Bansal, Research Associate
On earth, biodiversity is an exceptionally important part of life. Few decades ago, the topic was not considered worth to discuss but current change of events made it the most pertinent topic to discuss throughout the world. Evolution depends on biodiversity and any change in the system is capable of leading dangerous result. Biodiversity does not only refer to existing variety of living organisms on earth rather, it also includes interdependence of all these living things. If interdependence is not there, our ecosystem will vanish. For example, a car will function properly when all parts are working. If one part stops working, such as a headlight, the car can still function normally. However if the second headlight stops working, driving the car at night would be dangerous and if the engine is removed the car won’t work at all. If species are going extinct in an ecosystem, it will start to not function as well and eventually not function at all ((Why is biodiversity important?, available at http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/ns/cbreton/natcul/natcul1/d/iii.aspx)).
The CBD ((Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), 1992))defines biodiversity as “the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.”
Biodiversity plays a pivotal role in the regulation and control of infectious diseases while supporting food security, dietary health, livelihood sustainability. It provides important resources for traditional and modern medicine and further research as well. Insects may seem insignificant to us but in many ecosystems, amphibians, small birds and mammals rely on insects for food. Take away the insects, and suddenly these animals have nothing to eat. The birds and other animals which feed on insects are in turn food for larger animals. If they starve because there are no more insects, then the larger animals also will have no food ((Supra note 1)). Hence, considering the importance of biodiversity and its potential benefits for the population, it is required that an extra status is to be attached to biodiversity.
It had been argued that due to increased rate of human interference, ecosystems are being destroyed, animals and plants becoming extinct, and biodiversity is being lost. Unfortunately, biodiversity is not uniformly distributed and certain regions of the Earth including Indian subcontinent are the mega diversity zones. The sad part is that, it is largely underappreciated and unrecognised within the health community that biodiversity is capable of providing enormous range of benefits. With the advent of new technology life span has increased, as a result population is increasing drastically. The growing population causes displacement of natural environments, not only because we need more living space, but also because the demand for agriculture and industry becomes higher as a result ((Jennifer Trowbridge, The Significance of Biodiversity: Why We Should Protect the Natural Environment.)). Moreover, the reports of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the Intergovernmental panel on climate change have highlighted how human well-being is affected by the state of the global environment and the sustainability of ecosystems ((The importance of biodiversity to human health, Biodiversity and Global Health, UN CBD COP 10, Policy brief (October, 2010).)). Hence, it is the need of the hour to look the matter in a different way so that we can deal with future problems in a better way.
Biodiversity and role of India
India accounts, though, only 2.4% of the land area of the world but it contributes approximately 8% species to the global diversity ((Mr. Ankur Goyal v. Ministry of Environment and … on 15 September, 2011)). It may be pleasing to note that out of 25 terrestrial biodiversity hot spots two, viz., Western Ghats and Eastern Himalayas are the part of India ((Id.)). The Protected Area Network of India includes 100 National Parks and 515 Wildlife Sanctuaries, 43 Conservation Reserves and 4 Community Reserves. A substantial portion of hard earned taxpayer’s money is being invested to look after these areas in order to fulfil the shared responsibility of wildlife conservation ((As per Annual Report 2010-11, Ministry of environment and Forests (MoEF).)).
Over a period of time, India had indeed played an undisputed role in preserving biodiversity and attaches a great significance to biodiversity. After the giant Stockholm conference on Human Environment and Development, 1972 it has not only participated in all major international events on environmental issues, but also contributed to and ratified several key multilateral agreements including Convention for Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, 1972 and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), 1992.
India successfully hosted the eleventh Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Hyderabad in October, 2012. The event provided India with an opportunity to consolidate, scale-up and showcase its strengths in the field of biodiversity ((Lok Sabha Debates, PRESIDENT ADDRESS: SECRETARY-GENERAL Laid A Copy of The President’s….. (21 February, 2013) available at http://www.indiankanoon.org/doc/26236297/)). One of the most important outcomes of this Conference was the commitment made by the Parties to double the total biodiversity-related international financial resource flows to developing countries by 2015 ((Id.)). At the Conference, the Prime Minister launched the ‘Hyderabad Pledge’, wherein he announced earmarking US $50 million during India’s presidency of the Conference of Parties to strengthen the institutional, technical and human capabilities for biodiversity conservation in India, and to promote similar capacity building in other developing countries ((Id.))The National Ganga River Basin Authority is galvanizing the efforts of the Centre and the States for cleaning the river in a holistic manner. Pollution abatement works of about 2600 crore have been sanctioned by the Authority in the last three years ((PRESIDENT ADDRESS: SECRETARY-GENERAL Laid a Copy of the President’s … on (12 March, 2012).)).
Hence, it won’t be incorrect to state that government has taken mainly initiative and fruitful steps in order to protect biodiversity. In coming years, more reforms are needed in order to properly implement the policy of government.
Biological diversity act and national green tribunal
In the recent years, National Green Tribunal in tandem with Biological Diversity Act, 2002 has given many healthy decisions which is aiding and will aid in shaping future of biodiversity laws in India. The passage to National Green Tribunal via biodiversity Act lies in the provision in the act which gives an option to the party aggrieved by the decision of national or state biodiversity board to appeal to the National green Tribunal. Any person aggrieved by environmental pollution endangering biodiversity can appeal to National Green Tribunal.
Under Section 37 of the Biodiversity Act, it is given that the state has the power to declare any biodiversity region a heritage site and frame rules for the management and conservation of biodiversity heritage site. In the light of this section, Govt. of Assam in the case of Rohit Choudhury vs. Union Of India & Ors ((Application N. 38/2011 delivered on 7 September, 2012)), stated that considering the status of rich biodiversity, National Park, Tiger Reserve, Elephant Reserve and World Heritage Site of UNESCO has constituted the Kaziranga Biodiversity Conservation and Development Committee to find out the ways and means for protecting the population of Rhino, Elephant, Tiger, Buffalo and many other important species in Kaziranga ((Id.)).
Further, under section 36(2), central government also have power to issue directives to the concerned State Government to take immediate ameliorative measures, offering such State Government any technical and other assistance that is possible to be provided or needed for the protection of biodiversity. In the case of Prafulla Samantray vs. Union of India ((Appeal No. 8/2011 (March 30, 2012).)), Section 36(2) was implemented and it was felt necessary to access impact on surrounding wetlands and mangroves and their bio diversity. Recently in the case of Hbf (Through Bishnu Hazarika) v. Union Of India & Ors on 10 January, 2013, Tribunal in order to protect the environment in and around Kaziranga National Park which has importance through out the world issued certain directions to remove the units which were creating pollution pertaining to air, water, noise and are situated in the vicinity more particularly within No Development Zone.
Hence, it is undeniably a healthy piece of legislation and minor modification such as inclusion of provisions for penalties, power to constitute special inquiry committee (which will include specialised member) etc. will make it a fruitful legislation.
In order to implement the current laws considering biodiversity effectively and efficiently, it is pertinent to let common man know about the law. The initiative like COHAB (Co-operation on Health and Biodiversity), which is an international programme of work establishment to address the gaps in awareness, policy and action on the links between human health and well-being and the conservation of biological diversity should be given attention.
It is painful to hear that most of the unique species are either extinct or on the verge of extinction. More and more innovation and new technique is required to protect biodiversity. National Green Tribunal is definitely one of them but we need more attention than earlier in order to lead towards a healthy ecosystem.