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Bichhri still sees red

THE BELLOWING sound of the water tanker makes Mukesh Rao emotional. The resident of Rajasthan’s Bichhri village in Udaipur district has been waiting for days for the 10,000-litre tanker sent by Hindustan Zinc Limited (HZL), which has a refinery nearby, to arrive. “We are longing for a glass of clean water,” says Rao, who runs a shop in the village. But he is unsure whether he will get any of it. "The tanker provides water for free but some households pay the driver to hoard water," he says. Bichhri has 60 wells, hand pumps and borewells, some as deep as 30 metres. But they all yield, instead of clear water, a dark yellow cocktail of iron, gypsum, H-acid and other pollutants. The contamination was caused way back in 1987, by five chemical factories set up by business-owner O. P. Agarwal. The factories were setup stream of Bichhri, on the eastern slopes of a series of hillocks that flank Udaisagar canal. Two of its units produced H- acid, a crystalline compound used as a dye intermediate. The plants released highly acidic, dark tan effluents through an open drain that ran across Bichhri before emptying into the Udaisagar canal. Some of the effluents were also stored in unlined pits, which seeped into aquifers and contaminated the groundwater. Estimates by residents and research institutions say the water in the wells in the village turned black within months after the chemical factories came up. These wells were the primary source of irrigation in the village, and hence their contamination had adverse impacts on the soil fertility and agricultural yields. Analysis at the time showed 350 hectares (ha) of land in the village were affected by the polluted groundwater. In 1989, Bichhri residents, led by Udaipur-based lawyer and activist Mannaram Dangi, filed a case against Agarwal's polluting units, first with the sub-district magistrate and later with the Supreme Court (SC) (see 'Too long a wait'). In 1996, SC called the five units "rogue industries" and ordered their closure. It also directed the Central Pollution Control Board to recover cost to repair the land by seizing Agarwal’s immovable property. Efforts to recover the amount, which now stands at R202 crore after adding interest, remain stalled since 2018. “SC's order gave us hope, but we have neither seen justice nor have our lands been restored,” says Rao Bichhri’s troubles go beyond compensation. The contaminated groundwater still flows through the aquifer system, and has penetrated so deep that it cannot be cleaned up (see ‘What goes down must come up’, Down To Earth 16-31 August, 1999). As a result, the groundwater quality has deteriorated in several other villages. At Maharaj ki Khedi village, 15 km from Bichhri, residents say the water turned red in the 1990s. “There was a time when we could even drink the water used for irrigation because it was so clean. Now, even birds and animals do not drink the polluted water,” says Tejram, a resident of the village. “Our primary crop was vegetables, we can no longer grow them,” he adds. The water colour in the area has improved after the units were shut down in 1996, but it is still not potable. “We do not even give the water to our animals or use it for irrigation," says Rao. Those who use the water for laundering and dishwashing, say it corrodes the plumbing fixtures. Manju Bhoi, who uses the well water for bathing, has developed rashes and patches of discoloured skin all over the body.

Too long a wait

Despite legal interventions, Bichhri is yet to see justice1987: O P Agarwal acquires grazing land in Bichhri village and sets up five chemical factories. H-acid effluents begin polluting water sources. 1988: In September, residents write to state and national leaders. Two months later, the district magistrate initiates proceedings against the units. 1989: Lawyer and activist Mannaram Dangi files a case against Agarwal in the sub-district magistrate (SDM). Later, he files a petition in the Supreme Court (SC) with lawyer M C Mehta. 1996: SC orders units' closure, and recovery of land repair amount from Agarwal's assets. It forms the Paryavaran Evam Manav Vikas Sanstha (environment and human development institute) for the village. 1997: The Sanstha's assessment shows damage to land, crops and livestock of 160 families. It approaches the Udaipur civil court, seeking compensation of ₹ 28 crore. 1998: Agarwal appeals against the civil suit in the High Court. 2007: Bichhri residents file a complaint with SDM against discharge of effluents by Hindustan Zinc's refinery. 2011: SC fines one of Agarwal's units ₹38.385 crore with 12 per cent compound interest since 1997. 2014: Based on a ground report, SDM concludes that Hindustan Zinc is polluting farmland in Bichhri village and the residents must be compensated. The company moves the Udaipur sessions court. 2018: Amount fixed by SC increases to ₹202 crore. District collector attaches Agarwal's property under the Land and Revenue Act. Agarwal refers the matter to the Revenue Board. Udaipur sessions court stays SDM's order and calls for new enquiry into allegations against Hindustan Zinc.


The residents are facing another challenge. The mining refinery of HZL, whose water tanks have been the only source of drinking water to the village for the past 25 years, is also hurting the people. Effluents from the refinery, set up near the low-lying area of the village, are reducing the farm yields. In 2007, Bichhri and 24 other villages filed a complaint against HZL with the sub-district magistrate of Girwa block in Udaipur district, saying discharge from the company's effluent treatment plant is released to the farms during monsoon season. In 2014, based on a report from the tehsildar (revenue department officer) and the state agricultural department, the subdistrict magistrate concluded that the land was being polluted by HZL and the affected residents must be compensated. But the company filed a plea with the Udaipur sessions court, which ordered new enquiry into the matter. Meanwhile, faced with abysmal yields, some 110 farming families in Bichhri have quit agriculture and have sold 40 ha over the years, says Mannaram. “A decade ago I used to get yield of 70 bags of wheat, each of 50 kg. Now, I barely manage seven-eight bags,” says Ramlal Nai, whose farmland is adjoining the refinery. Another farmer, Daulatram Dangi, who owns 2.4-ha near the factory, used to get 10-12 bags of wheat, which has reduced to nothing now. He also plans to sell his land.

A grim outlook

SOME 40 per cent of the land across the globe is now degraded, affecting half of humanity and threatening US $44 trillion in economic output, which is over half of the global GDP (gross domestic product) in 2021. This is the observation of the second edition of “Global Land Outlook” report (glo2) by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), released on April 27, shortly before its 15th Conference of the Parties in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. The report warns that at the current trend, an additional 1.6 billion hectares (ha), or an area almost the size of South America, will be degraded. This will lead to severe climate-induced disturbances that will disrupt food supply, cause migrations and accelerate species extinction. The report also estimates that an additional 69 gigatonnes of carbon emissions will be released from 2015 to 2050 due to land-use change, soil degradation and slowed agricultural yields. “As a finite resource and our most valuable natural asset, we cannot afford to continue taking land for granted,” Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary, UNCCD, said during launch of the report. The report also offers a vision of benefits that could accrue by 2050 if humanity acts to restore landscapes and reverse this trend. "The returns from a regenerative restoration economy that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, land degradation and biodiversity loss are estimated to be worth $125-140 trillion annually—up to one and a half times global GDP," says UNCCD, acknowledging the economic benefits of reversing land degradation amid rapid natural deterioration. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals include "land degradation neutrality" as a target, and at least 115 countries have already committed to restore 1 billion ha by 2030, as per to a 2020 study by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency; India has pledged to restore 26 million ha. GLO2 says this will cost $300 billion every year. Governments will be able to meet current pledges by repurposing subsidies given to the fossil fuel and agricultural industries, which total $700 billion every year. In fact, restoring 15 per cent of converted or degraded lands in priority areas can sequester up to 300 gigatonnes of carbon, the report estimates (see ‘Regions to restore’). GLO2 offers hundreds of successful efforts undertaken by countries to illustrate context- specific measure to combat environmental degradation, restore land health and improve living conditions. Examples include Costa Rica that was able to recover 52 per cent of its degraded forest land in 12 years (2002-14) with effective programmes and regulations. The Democratic Republic of Congo, too, is regenerating its degraded rain-forest landscape Yangambi, using sustainable land management practices and supporting activities like beekeeping and animal breeding. In contrast, it also points out that the Great Green Wall initiative to restore land in Africa's Sahel region has not proved effective so far.


The report, a follow-up to a similar analysis released in 2017, identifies food systems as the “single greatest driver” of terrestrial natural capital loss. “We need to urgently rethink our global food systems, which are responsible for 80 per cent of deforestation, 70 per cent of freshwater use and the single greatest cause of terrestrial biodiversity loss,” said Thiaw. “The ongoing destruction of nature for food production (such as extensification) is now encroaching on some of the most carbon-rich ecosystems on the planet,” the report notes. This in turn reduces yields, forcing farmers to use harmful agrochemicals. To reverse this trend, the report recommends conservation agriculture (low- or no-till farming), agroforestry and silvo-pasture, improved grazing management, grassland rehabilitation and forest plantations. It also lauds India’s emphasis on zero-budget natural farming. It, however, cautions against “monoculture plantations” as was seen under the Bonn Challenge—a global goal to restore 150 million ha of degraded and deforested land by 2020 and 350 million ha by 2030. But recent studies show that nearly half the area pledged in Africa, Asia and South America is earmarked for monoculture plantations, mostly fast- growing exotic species. These areas will lose out on benefits of naturally regenerating forests. For the first time, the report recommends scaling up the land rights of indigenous peoples and local communities to ensure the success of nature restoration projects,

Benefit Withheld

One needs a purpose bigger than the egotistical self to choose a vocation that can get the person killed in minutes, and Kali Chokalingam knows it is for him. At the Irula Snake Catchers Industrial Cooperative Society housed within the Madras Crocodile Bank in Kancheepuram district of Tamil Nadu, visitors appear entranced by Kali as he, standing in a pit, calmly picks up a Russell’s viper. Hissing around him are other venomous snakes – cobra, common krait and saw-scaled viper-lying in terracotta pots that are sealed with cotton cloth to ensure that the reptiles receive enough air but do not escape. Holding the viper from its jawbone, while controlling its writhing body, Kali squeezes the skull until its fangs clamp over a collection vial and drops of venom flow into it. The venom of these snakes, referred to as the “big four” as these species cause the maximum number of snake bites in the country, is used for several pharmaceutical products, including antidotes. In India, snake bites cause 58,000 deaths. Venom extraction is a highly dangerous job. But Kali, who belongs to the Irula tribal community, makes the process appear effortless. Generations of catching reptiles have equipped the Irulas, who live in and around the forests of Tamil Nadu’s northern and western districts, with an expert understanding of snakes. While some like Kali are engaged in venom extraction, others in the 350-member Irula cooperative catch and supply the “big four” from wastelands, agricultural fields and industrial and residential areas. They can instinctively read the faint signs and marks on the ground and follow those to capture the reptile. The snakes are kept at Irula cooperative only for a month, during which venom is extracted four times. After that they are released into the wild in the presence of a forest officer. Since hunting and possession of snakes is prohibited under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, the Irulas obtain special licences for the purpose from the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests. While releasing the snake into the wild, they place a mark on its back to ensure that the same one is not caught repeatedly. The Irulas know that their livelihood depends on the well-being of the “big four”. Snake venom is a valuable biological resource. Saw-scaled viper venom can sell for ₹1.75 lakh a gram. In 2020-21, the Irula cooperative earned ₹2.49 lakh from selling venom. Its members, who have a share in the profit, earn on average upwards of ₹15,000 a month depending on the number of snakes they catch—they are also paid by the industry and farmers for this work. Such a concept has been at the heart of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which the world adopted in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit in Brazil. The Convention is the only international instrument that addresses biological diversity comprehensively. CBD’s objective is to conserve biological resources (flora, fauna and the germplasm) along with the traditional knowledge associated with them, to ensure that the resources are sustainably used and there is fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of biodiversity. India, home to 7 to 8 per cent of the world’s recorded species, has since been at the forefront in complying with CBD protocols. India ratified CBD in February 1994 and in 2002, enacted the Biological Diversity Act. Soon, a decentralised system was set up to implement the law (see ‘Three-tier security’ on p21). The National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) was established in 2003 to be at the helm and provide advice to the Union and state governments on conservation, sustainable use, and access and benefit sharing. The authority also regulates access of biological resources by international agencies. The biodiversity boards at the state ensure conservation of biological resources along with the regulation of access by national entities. In addition, under the Biological Diversity Act 2002, biodiversity management committees (BMC) have been set up at the panchayat level. These village committees have to ensure that the biodiversity in their area is mapped in the People’s Biodiversity Register. The national and state biodiversity boards are required to consult and get approval from these village-level committees for the use of biological resources and knowledge that is recorded in their registers. BMCS can also impose charges and fines for extraction of these resources, found in their villages.


In 2010, the Nagoya Protocol was adopted as a supplementary agreement to CBD and it came into force on October 12, 2014 (see ‘Global nod to sharing’). India was quick to ratify this too, and issued “Access to Biological Resources and Associated Knowledge and Benefits Sharing Regulations” (ABS regulations) that year. As per the regulations, users of biological resources and associated knowledge must share a percentage of their profits with communities who have been holders of the knowledge of the resource.


Nagoya protocol is the only global pact to exclusively deal with benefit sharing The 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development at Johannesburg agreed on need of an instrument to ensure fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources—one of the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity, an agreement signed by 150 governments since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. To fulfil this need, the Convention's Conference of the Parties put in place, in 2004, an Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group on Access and Benefitsharing, which negotiated the protocol for six years to finally adopt it on October 29, 2010, at Nagoya, Japan. The objective of the Nagoya Protocol is to set a legally binding international framework to promote a transparent and effective implementation of "access and benefit-sharing (ABS)” at the regional, national and local levels. The protocol is based on potential users of genetic resources obtaining the prior informed consent (PIC) of the com m unity with whom the genetic resource is located before accessing the resource, and negotiating and agreeing on the terms and conditions of access and use of this resource through the establishment of mutually agreed terms (MAT). Each Party to the Nagoya Protocol provides information on domestic ABS requirements, national focal points and competent national authorities, as well as makes available permits or their equivalent issued at the time of access. Traders and manufacturers of herbs and herbal products have the option to provide the communities and the collectors between 1 and 5 per cent of the purchase price or between 0.1 and 0.5 per cent of the sale price, depending on the scale of their commercial operations. The national and state biodiversity boards can retain 5 per cent of the payment, while 95 per cent has to go to the BMCS or to the benefit claimers. The abs regulations further mention that in case the “benefit claimers” cannot be identified the funds will be used to “support conservation and to promote livelihoods for local people from where the biological resources are accessed” This is all good in writing and intent but in most cases, it is difficult to identify the source as manufacturers purchase these biological resources from wholesale traders and the knowledge providers are not known. There is no publicly available data on the agreements signed with companies or the funds paid and how these have been utilised or paid out to communities. However, inputs from the National Biodiversity Authority, show that biodiversity boards of 12 states have collected ₹23.69 crore from the inception till date. In addition, the National Biodiversity Authority, which signs benefit sharing agreements with foreign companies, has signed 3,369 contracts and collected ₹148.03 crore. Out of this, '56 crore has been transferred to the state boards (see ‘Elaborate sham’, p23). The Uttarakhand biodiversity board tells Down To Earth (DTE) that the state has 7,991 BMCS and that it has signed 152 benefit-sharing agreements. It has collected '8.07 crore from traders and manufacturers of biological resources. Not much is known about the contracts. But what is known is that all the funds received are unused and sitting with the state biodiversity board as the beneficiaries are not known When DTE contacted the Kerala biodiversity board, it was told that the state has 1,200 BMCS and has signed four benefits.


India has Union, state and village-level institutions to conserve biodiversity and to share its earnings with communities sharing agreements. Again, nothing more is known about the nature of these agreements. In this state too, the funds are lying with the biodiversity board.


1. Advise the Government of India on matters relating to conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use of its components, fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of utilisation of biological resources.
2. Regulate activities and issue guidelines for access to biological resources and /or associated knowledge, and for fair and equitable sharing in accordance with Sections 3, 4 and 6 of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002.
3. Take measures to oppose the grant of intellectual property rights in any country outside India on any biological resource obtained illegally from India or knowledge associated with such biological resources derived illegally from India.
4. Advise state governments in selection of areas of importance for biodiversity (to be notified as heritage sites) and suggest measure for their management.
5. Provide guidance and technical support to Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) through State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) for preparing People's Biodiversity Registers.
6. Perform functions necessary to carry out the provisions of Biological Diversity Act, 2002.


1. Advise the state governments, subject to guidelines issued by the Central government, on matters relating to conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use of its components and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of utilization of biological resources.
2. Regulate, by granting approvals or otherwise, the request for commercial utilization or bio- survey and bio-utilization of any biological resources by Indians.


1. Prepare, maintain and validate People's Biodiversity Registers (PBR) in consultation with the local people. PBR provides details of access granted to biological resources and traditional knowledge, the collection fee, the benefits derived and the way they are shared.
2. Advise on any matter referred to it by the State Biodiversity Board or the National Biodiversity Authority for granting approval.
3. Maintain data about local vaidyas and medical practitioners using biological resources. Tamil Nadu has 13,604 BMCS and the state board has received ₹1.04 crore as benefit- sharing from 11 companies. “Of the ₹1.04 crore, we have so far transferred ₹53 lakh to communities and individuals. Beneficiaries for the remaining are not known, but we are trying to identify them proactively,” says Shekhar Kumar Niraj, chairperson of Tamil Nadu biodiversity board.
D. Narasimhan, retired taxonomist with Madras Christian College, Chennai, and member, expert committee on access and benefit sharing of the National Biodiversity Authority, says there is an urgent need for a policy to streamline transfer of funds received as sharing of benefits. S S Rasaily, former secretary, Uttarakhand biodiversity board, suggests that one way is to make companies understand that the money they deposit under “benefit sharing” is used for taking care of the land and natural resources their factory depends on.


DTE visited some of the biodiversity-rich parts of the country in late March and early April to understand the status on ground. In Uttarakhand’s Devprayag tehsil of Tehri Garhwal district, the people’s biodiversity register of Bagwan village is a simple register with a names of a few plan the first two pages. Talking to the village community, it was clear that the huge treasure trove of traditional knowledge that still exists in the village was not included. For instance, retired forest official Hirender Pandey’s knowledge to treat jaundice using local herbs found no mention, nor did Bilochan Prasad’s understanding of forest plant basingu (Adhatoda vasica) that can be used to cure stomach ailments. When DTE checked, it was told that the register was made by a forest official, who, as per the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, is a member of the village BMC. The register was made during the lockdown period of covid-19 pandemic, possibly following the directions of the National Green Tribunal (NGT). NGT’s direction of April 2019 was based on the 2016 petition of Pune-based activist Chandra Bhal Singh and said that “officers who are responsible for the job to ensure compliance with 100 per cent constitution of BMC and people’s biodiversity registers by 31.01.2020. If this task was not completed in time, then the state would have to pay a fine of Rs 10 lakh per month to the central pollution control board”. Till then only 9,700 BMCS had been set up. Following the NGT order, states rushed to constitute BMCS. By April 2022, as many as 276,836 BMCS had been established and 266,135 people’s biodiversity registers were made. However, the quality of these registers is less than certain. Biodiversity experts say it requires time and effort to capture the knowledge that exists and to match it with local resources also needs funds, which are not available with BMCS. “Peoples Biodiversity Registers are potentially a great knowledge resource, but at present creating them is simply a localised documentation exercise of variable quality and reliability,” says Darshan Shankar, vice chancellor of the University of Trans-Disciplinary Health Sciences and Technology in Bengaluru. Madhav Gadgil, ecologist and founder of Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, who had originally conceptualised the registers as key ways to document knowledge and nature, tells DTE of the enormously important role of this effort. “People’s biodiversity registers can be used to counter false and misleading statements given in forest diversion proposals and in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) reports submitted by developers and other project proponents. They could help a community present the facts before the decision maker to highlight the ‘real value’ of the ecological entity proposed to be ‘sacrificed’. Moreover, communities can use it to claim a share of the benefit that companies accrue by utilising the biological resource”.


Under the Biodiversity Act 2002, the benefits from commercial utilisation of biological resources have to be shared with communities. The Irula cooperative is the only organisation in the country with licence to collect snake venom. It sells the venom to eight pharmaceutical companies. But only one, Pune-based is ERA Biological that is a recent entrant to the business, agreed in January 2020 to offer 5 per cent of the purchase price to Tamil Nadu biodiversity board for three years under the abs regulations. In 2020, the board received ₹17,700 from is ERA as first tranche of the payment, which it transferred to Thiruporur BMC and Irula cooperative. The cooperative used this money to set up a water purification system. The board has not received any money from is ERA since. It does not have the financial or human resources to track the industries that access the resource or to identify beneficiaries. For instance, seaweed (Kappaphycus alvarezii), an additive in food and cosmetic products, attracts several companies to Tamil Nadu. But only one, PepsiCo India, has so far paid ₹37 lakh as royalty for it, that too in 2008. Benefit-sharing has not worked because the industry is not keen on sharing its “benefits” with communities. In 2014, when the abs regulations were introduced, states sent out notices to industries that depended on biological resources, asking them to pay the dues—Tamil Nadu sent notices to 577 companies and Uttarakhand to 805. But many companies moved court. Among them is Ayurvedic manufacturer Divya Pharmacy. In 2016, the Uttarakhand biodiversity board served a notice to Divya Pharmacy for using biological resources from the state for its ayurvedic formulations, without informing the board and evading benefit sharing fees. The board had asked Divya Pharmacy to share ₹20 million of its ₹4.21 billion revenue earned in 2014-15, or a levy of 3-5 per cent on the cost of biological resources extracted, or 0.01 to 0.05 per cent of annual gross ex-factory sales of finished goods after deducting taxes. Divya Pharmacy challenged the notice at Uttarakhand High Court, saying that the state biodiversity board did not have the authority to impose abs regulations on Indian entities. In 2018, citing the Biological Diversity Act, the Uttarakhand High Court held that all Indian companies extracting biological resources are liable to seek prior approval of the National Biodiversity Authority and share part of their revenue with communities.

Hits and Misses

In December 2021, Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav tabled the Biological Diversity Amendment Bill in Parliament. The amendments hope to reduce burden on wild medicinal plants by encouraging their cultivation; facilitate environment for collaborative research and investments; improve research patent application process; reduce need of practitioners and companies making medicinal products for taking permission from the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA); and to increase the composition of the authority and revising positions and responsibilities. Additionally, it proposes to de-criminalise violation of provisions of the legislation; suggests creation of separate authorities at the Centre and the state levels, withdraws the power given to the authority to file an fir against a defaulting party for violation; and provides for the creation of an inquiry officer, who following an inquiry, can impose a penalty of up to ₹1 crore in cases of continuous violation. The bill was referred to a joint committee to include concerns of stakeholders. The committee has had nine meetings so far, the last of which was on April 19, 2022. It has already deferred the deadlines a few times but is likely to submit its report to Parliament on June 3. The amendments do not address some of the major problems that Down To Earth found on ground. The fact is that the entire effort to share benefits with communities has been reduced to, at best, a meaningless bureaucratic exercise on paper and at worst a charade. The system of access and benefit sharing can work only if the knowledge holders are recognised; if the traders and manufacturing companies that use this knowledge are held liable for payments, which is then transferred to communities or a system is made for its utilisation for conservation and for the benefit of local communities. None of this is happening on the ground. This is partly because there is no information available in the public domain about the agreements and the transfers. It is also because the registers that should be the basis of the documentation of the knowledge and its utilization are more or less empty sheets of paper. However, the issue that has raised a red flag is the provision in the amendment on who can access biological resources. Under Section 3 of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, “a person who is not a citizen of India; or who is non-resident or a corporate body that is not incorporated or registered in India, which has any non-Indian participation in its share capital or management” cannot access biological resources without approval from the National Biodiversity Authority. The draft amendment seeks to change this provision by substituting it with the term “foreign controlled company”, which means a foreign company which, as per the Companies Act, 2013, is under the control of a foreigner. This, say activists, would defeat the intent of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, as it would leave out of its ambit many companies that would otherwise be required to pay for the use of biological resources. According to Delhi-based Vidhi Center for Legal Policy, which has submitted its comments to the joint committee, the National Biodiversity Authority had used provisions under Section 3 of the existing law to take legal action against Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company when it obtained indigenous varieties of brinjal for developing genetically modified Bt brinjal without prior authorisation. If the amendments are enacted, the company would not be classified as “foreign controlled”, even though 26 per cent of its ownership lies with the US-based Monsanto Co. Andhra Pradesh biodiversity board also used the same provision to seek royalty from Monsanto India (whose 72 per cent share is owned by Monsanto Co) for developing genetically modified Bt cotton, resistant to bollworm. For developing the seeds, the company had used genetic information from Bacillus thuringiensis found in the soils of Mahanadi village in Kurnool district. The other issue of concern is the inclusion of the term “codified traditional knowledge” which does not exist in the original law. As per the proposed amendment, Section 4, pertaining to access of biological diversity would be substituted so that results of research obtained or accessed from India, if these are from codified traditional knowledge, would be shared without prior written approval of the National Biodiversity Authority. But if the research is used for commercial utilisation or to obtain intellectual property rights (IPR) within or outside India, the approval of the National Biodiversity Authority would be needed. This has raised the hackles of many who see this provision as a way for many Ayurvedic and Unani—and other such traditional medicine systems—to be allowed to use biological resources without any regulations and need for benefit sharing. The problem is that the Nagoya Protocol and the Indian Biodiversity Act, 2002 never accounted for the codified traditional medicine systems in their provisions. The fact is also that these companies are making important products—essential for wellbeing and health—and that this knowledge is from ancient wisdom, learnt and evolved from the experiences of the use of biological diversity. How will this traditional knowledge be distinguished from the knowledge that exists in the villages and homes of communities? Who should be compensated for this resource or the knowledge that is used to make the many products that we use in our lives today? India is trying to promote the ayush industry (Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy), which needs around 680 plants. Manufacturers of these traditional medicinal and well-being products depend on the biodiversity, found mostly in the wild which is difficult to source from. So the key question is: should this biodiversity be utilised or not; and if so, where will it be grown? There are restrictions on collection from forests. It is also not easy to cultivate many species found in the wild.

To Grow And Not To Use?

UNDER the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, people are not allowed to harvest or cultivate biodiversity that is found in the wild. This means, a member species found in the wild cannot be grown domestically. And even if it is grown, it cannot be traded. The celebrated case of the Kani tribe in Kerala—the basis for the idea of benefit sharing—lost out because of this provision. The plant species arogyapacha (Trichopus zeylanicus travancoricus) used for the production of the medicine based on the knowledge of this community, could not be collected in the wild or cultivated as it was not included in the minor forest produce list of the forest department (see ‘The arogyapacha case’, p29). Andhra Pradesh, too, has been trying to benefit from its high-value red sanders (Pterocarpus santalinus). The tree is endemic to four districts in the state—Chittoor, Kadapa, Kurnool and Nellore. There are restrictions on its trade as IUCN categorises the tree as endangered. So the government is trying to earn from the sale of its huge stockpile of red sander timber confiscated from smugglers. In 2013, the state permitted the export of 8,584 tonnes of seized wood. In 2015, the National Biodiversity Authority clarified to the state that the Indian buyer would have to apply to the state biodiversity board and make a payment of 5 per cent of the purchase price as royalty under the provisions of “access and benefit sharing”. It further indicated that if the wood is then sold to a foreign company, the purchasing company would also have to pay a royalty to the authority. In 2019, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade, an agency of the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry, revised its policy to permit the export of red sander timber if obtained through cultivation. However, it has been seen that it is easier to trade in seized sandalwood than in cultivated timber. In Uttarakhand, the forest department has allowed the cultivation of certain medicinal plants by farmers for commercial purposes. In this effort 25 farmers in Uttarkashi and 100 in Chamoli districts are growing high-value endangered medicinal plants such as kuth (Saussurea costus) and kutki (Picrorhiza kurrooa) whose trade is banned under cites (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). They can earn ₹1,300 to ₹1,400 per kg of kutki and ₹300- 320 per kg for kuth. “The Biodiversity Management Committee of these villages where the farming is being done and the buyers are in the process of finalising the agreement with the state biodiversity board. From the next harvesting season, they will also start receiving benefit sharing which has been fixed at 5 per cent of the sale price,” explains Jitendra Butola, founder director of human (Himalayan Union for Man and Nature) that helps farmers in documentation like registration, getting transit pass and legal procurement certificate from the forest department as the herbs can be exported only after proving that it is cultivated. The 2021 Amendment has a provision for identification of such cultivated biodiversity. It proposes to develop rules for issuing certificates of origin for cultivated medicinal plants. This has, of course, raised the debate on the need for commercialization and cultivation of these species. Many activists hold the view that if cultivation is allowed; it could lead to over- extraction of the resource as it would be difficult to trace the origins.


A 1987 case offers lessons on what can go wrong in absence of clear laws on access and benefit sharing AROGYAPACHA (Trichopus zeylanicus travancoricus) is a small, slender plant that grows in the forests of the Western Ghats. It provides one of the best examples of how access and benefit-sharing can go wrong in the absence of clearly defined mechanisms. In 1987, a team led by P. Pushpangadan and S. Rajasekharan from the Council of Scientific And Industrial Research's Regional Research Laboratory in Jammu, visited Agasthya Hills to document the plants in the area. Their guides, members of the Kani tribe, told them how arogyapacha kept them energetic even on an empty stomach. By 1995, the researchers, who had shifted to Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute (now Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute) in Palode, Kerala, had studied the plant and developed a product, Jeevani, from it. The technology was transferred to Arya Vaidya Pharmacy of Coimbatore for a licence fee of ₹10 lakh and a royalty of 2 per cent on ex-factory sale to the research institute. The researchers helped the tribal com m unity set up Kerala Kani Samudaya Kshema Trust in 1997 and transferred ₹5 lakh to the trust as fixed deposit. The trust was to receive annual royalty from the sale, too. Immediately after the arrangement, problems emerged. The manufacturer had believed that Kanis would collect and sell arogyapacha leaves to them. But as per laws, they could collect only minor forest produce and arogyapacha was not in that list. Criminal cases were filed against members of the tribe who continued to collect and sell the herb. Traders too moved in to smuggle large quantities of the plant. Some families started cultivating the plant but could not sell the harvest which was seized at the forest check-posts since it was put in the list of endangered species. Members of the tribe were also divided on the arrangement, since the research institute had made deals with only a few of them, though the knowledge belonged to the community. And the world lost access to a miracle herb. It has been 20 years since India enacted the Biological Diversity Act, but it does not seem to have managed to use its rich biodiversity sustainably or ensure that the benefits reach those who have conserved it. Experts working with the Irulas say the number of snakes in the area is dwindling due to land-use changes of forest area and concretisation of wetlands and agricultural lands. In 2002-03, the Irulas collected 13,637 snakes. In 2020-21, the forest department allowed the capture of only 5,000 due to their dwindling numbers. Now, for a steady supply of snakes, there is a plan to create a serpentarium. Experts fear that with this, there would not be enough work for all the 350 members of the cooperative. The snakes in fields and factories would be killed instead of being taken to the forests. Additionally, the snake catchers’ traditional knowledge would be lost. V B Mathur, chairperson of the National Biodiversity Authority at Chennai, says India faces multiple challenges such as lack of awareness, technical capacity and financial resources when it comes to protecting biodiversity. “The way to protect would be to assess the conservation status of at least those species that are economically important in terms of livelihood, medicinal plant and food,” says Mathur. “Either use it or lose it. The local community has to play the central role in conservation, sustainable use and benefit sharing,” ecologist Madhav Gadgil tells DTE. Kavitha Kuruganti, convener, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), says, “we also need empowered communities, not just legal literacy; investment in sustainable management; community-level democratic processes; and dialogues that rest on the traditional ethos of communities and not the modern market ethos.” These, clearly, are the challenges ahead,

Stockholm Syndrome

THE STOCKHOLM conference on the human environment marked the initiation of global consciousness on sustainability. It brought the world together to discuss the big issues of growth and environmental management. This was the time when Rachel Carson, through her seminal book Silent Spring, had told the story of poisoning of nature. It was also the time when the industrialised West was battling against pollution and toxification. Our colleague Anil Agarwal, who was at the conference in 1972, often recalled how Stockholm’s lakes were so contaminated with chemicals that you could develop a film negative in the water. This conference was about the fallout of industrialisation and how to cope and mitigate its harmful impacts. As we head towards its 50th anniversary, now would be time to recall the words of India’s former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, who was the only head of government—other than that of the host country Sweden—to attend and speak at the meeting. At the plenary session, Gandhi said that the industrialised world, which had gained from the riches and labour of colonization, must not preach to the rest that there were follies in the way they were growing. “We do not wish to impoverish the environment any further and yet we cannot for a moment forget the grim poverty of large numbers of people.” She went on to argue that poverty was the greatest polluter. This statement of Indira Gandhi became legendary, but was also widely misunderstood as saying that the poor world needed more development, not less, which would mean more pollution than was essential. The fact is that at no time did the former prime minister argue that. She said that her “deep interest in this only Earth was not for itself, but as a fit home for man”. The human species is also imperiled, she said, “In poverty he is threatened by malnutrition and disease, in weakness by war and in richness by the pollution brought about by his own prosperity.” Prophetic and profound words that the world ignored. By 1992, when the world reconvened in the Brazilian city Rio de Janeiro, there were new challenges at hand. Now, global environmental challenges were on the world’s mind—the rich world had seen the emergence of a hole in the ozone layer caused by chemicals it had consumed in its air-conditioning and other systems. This problem of the ozone hole had also brought the realization that no country could fix the problem alone. This was different from the issue of pesticide poisoning that had been highlighted by Carson. In this case, the hole was in the atmosphere and the release of chloroflurocarbons by any country would jeopardise the interest of all. It was also the time, when climate change—an issue that haunts us today—had begun to be understood. Again, it needed global cooperation to combat these emissions that were essential for economic growth as the world knew it then and now. But instead of bringing the world together, the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development sent the rich and the poor blocs of the world into their corners again—the rich preaching the need for sustainability (that was a new word at this meeting) and the poor demanding their need for development. The fact is— and I was at Rio to witness the shenanigans—that the developing world, including India, was very much willing to be partners in this fight against environmental degradation. But it needed the world to recognise the need for equity—not just inter-generational but intra-generational equity. In the case of climate change, it was about how the already-rich world would drastically cut its greenhouse gas emissions to provide space for the still developing world to grow without polluting. But this was not the deal. Developing countries at Rio argued that they wanted to make sure that they could grow without polluting, bend the curve, but that this would require transfer of money and technology. The situation was same when it came to biodiversity or forest conservation. It was about finding ways in which poor communities, on whose lands these riches were found, would be benefitted from conservation. That did not happen. Instead we have spent the last three decades engaged in skirmishes to defeat the very idea of global cooperation between the rich and the poor based on rule- based systems. This is why; we are in the mess of today, with unabated species extinction and a rapidly changing climate. This is why, when the world meets in Stockholm of 2022 it must not repeat the mistakes of the past five decades. It must remember the words of India’s former prime minister and take it to be the agenda of the future. Stockholm+50 has to be about our common future—not about the divisions of the past.

The Summer Lingers

That we still seek the Stockholm declaration's ideals only shows how we need to up our game to prevent the planet's environmental crisis BETWEEN JUNE and JUNE 16, 1972, countries across the world shed a bit of their sovereignty. The aim was to create a common governance structure for the planet’s environment and natural resources. The occasion was the UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, the first such worldwide convergence on planetary environment, with the theme “Only One Earth”. When the participating 122 countries -70 of them developing and poor countries – adopted the Stockholm Declaration on June 16, they essentially committed to 26 principles and an action plan that set in a multilateral environmental regime. One of the overarching principles was that sovereignty should be subject to not causing harm to the environment of other countries as well. This was the first globally subscribed document that recognised the “interconnections between development, poverty and the environment.” These principles were celebrated as a harbinger of “new behaviour and responsibility which must govern their relationship in the environmental era”. To put it another way, the planet’s environment and natural resources resetting their relationship with nature – from sovereignty over resources to shared responsibility for their sustainable uses. The three dimensions of this conference were: countries agreeing not to “harm each other’s environment or the areas beyond national jurisdiction”; an action plan to study the threat to Earth’s environment; and establishment of an international body called the UN Environment programme (UNEP) to bring in cooperation among countries.


The Stockholm conference was historic, and not just for being the first one on planetary environment. Until 1972, no country had an environment ministry. Norwegian delegates returned from the conference to set up a ministry for environment; the host Sweden took a few more weeks to do so. India set up its ministry of environment and forest in 1985. The UN charter never had the environment as a domain to deal with. So, the first global conference on the environment happened when environment was not a subject of importance for any country or a global concern. In 1968, when Sweden first proposed the idea of the Stockholm conference (this is why it was referred to as the Swedish Initiative), cases of environmental degradation and hints of a meltdown of the planet’s atmospheric system had started making news. Acid rains were being reported; Rachel Carson’s now famous book Silent Spring was just six years old but attained biblical status in terms of readership and impact on public consciousness. Species extinction made headlines, like that of the humpback whales and Bengal tigers; the mercury poisoning caused by methyl mercury release into the Minamata Bay in Japan entered public discourse. In the UN General Assembly in 1968, for the first time climate change was discussed using emerging scientific evidence. Though it was still not believable, in 1965, the then US president Lyndon B Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee came out with the report, “Restoring the Quality of Our Environment”, which was definitive on the role of human- emitted CO 2 to atmospheric warming. In 1967, Syukuro Manabe and Richard Wetherald of Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the American scientific and regulatory agency, and Princeton University published a study that actually estimated the global temperature based on C O2 levels at that point in time. They said that “in the absence of unknown feedback such as changes in clouds, a doubling of CO 2 from the current level would result in approximately 2°C increase in global temperature” Four years of preparation preceded the Stockholm Declaration. Hundreds of scientists and experts from across the globe contributed some 20,000 pages on the human environment which were curated into an 800-page document to be circulated in the conference. Many say the preparation for the conference was the most expansive exercise within the UN system.

Stockholm declaration

Key principles agreed to at the Stockholm conference, 19721.Earth's natural resources, including air, water, land, flora and fauna, especially representative samples of natural ecosystems, must be safeguarded for the benefit of the present and future generations through careful planning or management. 2. The discharge of toxic substances or of other substances and the release of heat, in such quantities or concentrations as to exceed the capacity of the environment to render them harmless, must be halted in order to ensure that serious or irreversible damage is not inflicted upon ecosystems. The just struggle of the peoples of ill countries against pollution should be supported. 3. States shall take all steps to prevent pollution of the seas by substances that are liable to create hazards to human health, to harm living resources and marine life, to damage amenities or to interfere with other legitimate uses of the sea. 4. The environmental policies of all States should enhance and not adversely affect the present or future development potential of developing countries, nor should they hamper the attainment of better living conditions for all, and appropriate steps should be taken by States and international organizations with a view to reaching agreement on meeting the possible national and international economic consequences resulting from the application of environmental measures. 5. States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.


The world also witnessed the environment entering into the global political agenda. But it suffered from the many divisions that already existed. The Cold War was precipitating the division between the east and the west. However, both the US and the erstwhile USSR bloc supported the conference. But a disagreement arose around the participation of two UN non-members— East Germany and West Germany. This ultimately led to the USSR and its allies boycotting the conference. On another front, immediately after the proposal for the conference on environment, developing countries took it as another ploy by rich countries to usurp natural resources and to hamper their growth. During the UN General Assembly debates in 1968, many developing countries had expressed misgivings about plans for an environmental conference, believing it would be dominated by interests of wealthier, industrialised countries. Brazil was the most vocal in its opposition to the conference calling it as a “rich man’s show”. It opposed any initiative that could limit its sovereignty over natural resources and constrain economic growth. Latin American countries supported Brazil and there was an imminent boycott of the conference. While preparations were on for the conference, a proposal to put all natural resources under a global administration that witnessed vehement opposition from developing countries. “The industrialised nations were basically worried about air and water pollution, while developing nations hoped for assistance to wipe out their sordid poverty without needless damage to ecosystems,” I. K. Gujral told Down To Earth in 1992. Gujral attended the Stockholm conference as India’s urban housing minister in the cabinet of the then prime minister Indira Gandhi. Gandhi, the only prime minister to attend the conference, made that famous speech linking poverty and the environment. She said: “There are grave misgivings that the discussion on ecology may be designed to distract attention from the problems of war and poverty. We have to prove to the disinherited majority of the world that ecology and conservation will not work against their interest but will bring an improvement in their lives.”


The Stockholm conference indeed started the contemporary “environmental era”. In many ways, it made multilateral governance of planetary concerns mainstream. This led to more than 500 multilateral environmental agreements being adopted in the last 50 years. Most of today’s conventions related to planetary crises like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the whole environmental regime being implemented through the UN system trace their origin to the Stockholm Declaration. Since that summer in Stockholm half-a-century ago, nobody has lived a normal month climate-wise. In April 2017, scientists from Climate Central, an international association of scientists and journalists reporting and researching climate change, released a stunning chart depicting a monthly temperature rise since 1880. “There has not been a cool month in 628 months,” the research said. In the last 50 years, human-induced changes on the planet disrupted a secure and suitable natural world that was in existence for over 12,000 years and helped humans prosper.


The world is all tuned in to the Stockholm+50, to be held in the same city in June, but with a vastly changed planet, notwithstanding the rooting of the multilateral environmental regime. On June 2-3, world leaders will not discuss how the past half-century was, but how the next 50 years would be treated with emergency actions. It is also aptly themed as “Stockholm+50: A healthy planet for the prosperity of all - our responsibility, our opportunity.” If the Stockholm conference could accord some time to all, the current one comes without a deadline, as time has already run out. Since the “environmental era” started, there are no signs of a restrain on our relationship with nature. As per UN data circulated as part of its Stockholm+50 commemoration, trade has gone up 10 times, the global economy by five times and the world population has doubled. “Human development is largely fuelled by a tripling in the extraction of natural resources, food production, and energy production and consumption over the past 50 years,” says an advance draft copy of the document to be discussed at Stockholm+50. As per the UNEP’s “Inclusive Wealth Report 2018”, “During 1990-2014, produced capital grew at an average annual rate of 3.8%, while health- and education-induced human capital grew at 2.1%. Meanwhile, natural capital decreased at an annual rate of 0.7%.” Last year while preparations were on for Stockholm+50, UNEP’s “Making Peace with Nature” report warned: “Such an uncoordinated response has contributed to the fact that the world is on track to warm at least 3°Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100— despite a temporary decline in emissions due to the pandemic. That is double the 1.5 warming mandated in the Paris targets, which would require a 45% global emission reduction by 2030.” A visualisation of the next 50 years, published in PNAS on May 4, 2020, states that “1 to 3 billion people are projected to be left outside the climate conditions that have served humanity well over the past 6,000 y [years]”. The study says humans have resided in a “climatic envelope” characterised by ~11°C and 15°C of mean annual temperature and “the geographical position of this temperature niche is projected to shift more over the coming 50 y than it has moved since 6000 BP [before present]”. “It looks unliveable for many,” said Tim Lenton, co-author of the study when it was released. So, many areas in North America and Europe that have comfortable temperatures would become as hot as North Africa. Tim warns: “Where we are headed is a place we don’t want to go.” 'Are not poverty and need the greatest polluters?' Indira Gandhi's presence at the Stockholm conference was rare since she was the only prime minister to attend the event. Her speech is still remembered for its "poverty the biggest polluter" message. It was a question she raised, and in a context. Excerpts from her speech: ON THE one hand the rich look askance at our continuing poverty, on the other, they warn us against their own methods. We do not wish to impoverish the environment any further and yet we cannot for a moment forget the grim poverty of large numbers of people. Are not poverty and need the greatest polluters? For instance, unless we are in a position to provide employment and purchasing power for the daily necessities of the tribal people and those who live in and around our jungles, we cannot prevent them from combing the forest for food and livelihood; from poaching and from despoiling the vegetation...... How can we speak to those who live in villages and in slums about keeping the oceans, the rivers and the air clean when their own lives are contaminated at the source? The environment cannot be improved in conditions of poverty. Nor can poverty be eradicated without the use of science and technology

Measuring Progress

Sustainability will command top priority when the world meets to review Stockholm; post- pandemic recovery must be inclusive OF THE many factors the led to the pandemic, the primary were destruction of biodiversity, clearing of the land, illegal trade in wildlife, and climate change. These constitute the basis of our progress and are sometimes referred to as natural asset/capital. The loss or depletion of natural capital, like biodiversity, caused or facilitated the transfer of unwanted pathogens in humans. We have been receiving warning signs through outbreaks of disease like sars, but we did not pay attention. Earlier, we were in luck; but not this time. As scientists suggest, this would not be the last pandemic if we do not change our development path and maintain the synergy between nature and human activities. In June 2022, the world meets at Stockholm, Sweden, in an international UN meet to review what it achieved in the 50 years since the Stockholm conference of 1972, and what should be its priorities for next 50 years. Measuring progress and prosperity as if sustainability (economic, environmental and social) mattered, would command top priority. Economic development since the industrial revolution has ushered in an era of unprecedented improvements in the human condition. Still, environmental trends require urgent action. Recent years have seen an unprecedented destruction of planetary health, a resurgence of populism and social unrest, spiralling inequalities in health, skills, and opportunities, and a growing sense of dissatisfaction with democracy. Combined, these pressures threaten to undermine more than a century’s worth of progress. Calls to “build back better” are now widespread, but in practice, this requires building back differently: different objectives and different strategies to achieve the goals. The first step has been taken. The objectives are defined in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS). Meeting them requires a wealth management strategy that recognises all of society’s assets—natural, human, social, and manufactured. Delivering the SDGS will take much more than GDP growth alone. GDP is associated with improvements across many SDG targets and indicators, such as the elimination of poverty (SDG 1). But GDP growth can also come at the expense of progress towards other goals such as climate action (SDG 13). This suggests that delivering the SDGS entails moving “beyond GDP”. The interconnected nature of the goals reflects the interconnected nature of wealth. Investments in any one component of wealth impact (for instance, human capital) impact the returns to other components of wealth (for instance, physical capital such as computers and IT infrastructure). This is equally true of SDGS, where progress towards Quality Education (SDG 4) impacts progress in other goals such as Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 8).


The United Nations Environment Programme’s Inclusive Wealth Index – crucial for delivering the SDG – focuses on the change in wealth, not just the level of wealth. It is critical to achieving the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and SDGS, which require a statistical infrastructure capable of measuring both the means (inclusive wealth) and the outcomes (SDG indicators). Inclusive wealth statistics present an opportunity to explicitly define the recovery from COVID-19 in terms of sustainable development, the Par-is Climate Agreement, and the “Beyond GDP” movement. The forthcoming assessment of inclusive wealth, by the United Nations Environment Programme – the inclusive Wealth Report (IWR) 2022 – records the continuous decline in per capita natural capital, while the per capital human and produced capitals are on rise. The growth of GDP per capita is much higher than the per capita wealth. That means part of wealth is depleted and is treated as income. The findings prove that the ongoing measure of progress and sustainability is inadequate as they show that we are mixing income with wealth. Mainstream economic statistics have focused too heavily on changes in income over time without enough emphasis on changes in the underlying assets that generate those income flows. In the short term, income can be increased by over-consuming capital, but this reduces productive capacity in the long run. The inclusive wealth paradigm demonstrates that future economic possibilities depend on the current management of all forms of wealth – human health and skills, physical infrastructure, sustainable natural resource and ecosystems management, trust and strength of social relationships, and the quality of democratic institutions. Combined, these inclusive wealth, and are the building blocks for achieving SDGS. Inclusive wealth statistics can help guide policy efforts towards enhancing the capacity of nations to deliver the United Nations 2030 Agenda for sustainable Development. Sustainable development encompasses a broader suite of guiding objectives and requires a more inclusive statistical infrastructure to reflect it. There is an urgent need to compile inclusive wealth statistics now so they can shape the recovery. Inclusive wealth statistics have seen major improvements in the past decade. The UN’s “Inclusive Wealth Reports” and World Bank’s “Changing Wealth of Nations” books have shown that it is possible to assess changes in natural, human, and physical capital in all countries, regardless of income level. The UN System of Environmental Economic Accounts and its Experimental Ecosystem Account have enhanced our ability to account for environmental stocks and their economic contributions. But substantial investments are needed to improve, expand, and get the most out of inclusive wealth statistics. Priorities include greater funding for national statistical offices and investments to automate and digitise inclusive wealth data collection (for instance, remote sensing, machine learning, and artificial intelligence for environmental statistics). Existing measures of social and human capital – as underlying assets and outcomes in terms of SDG indicators – suffer from poor coverage and conceptually simplistic. That these fundamental assets are difficult to measure means they deserve more, not less attention in official statistics. Building capacity and resilience after the pandemic requires investments in vital assets that can underpin a sustainable 21 st century. Inclusive wealth statistics present an opportunity to define the recovery from COVID-19 in terms of sustainable development, the Paris Agreement, and the “Beyond GDP” movement.

Polar EBB

THE STOCKHOLM Declaration of 1972, adopted at the United Nations Conference on the Environment, was a seminal global accord for protecting the planet. While the action plan, whose golden jubilee is this year, did not address any issues specific to the Arctic or Antarctic, general measures outlined in the document aim to safeguard Polar Regions. Antarctica, defined as all land and ice shelf south of 60 0 S, but not the surrounding waters, is regulated by the Antarctica Treaty System (ATS) ratified on December 1, 1959, which predates the 1972 Stockholm Declaration. This date is observed as Antarctica Day. The treaty aims for peaceful exploration of the continent for science and prohibits military activity other than as support for research; free exchange of information and personnel with the UN and other international agencies; prohibits new territorial claims; disallows nuclear explosions or disposal of radioactive wastes; and gives treaty-state observers free access to all stations, premises and equipment. Before this treaty was ratified, the UK, Norway, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, Australia, and France had made territorial claims in Antarctica. Australia’s claim is the largest; almost half of the entire continent. By not signing the treaty, the US, Russia, South Africa, Peru and Brazil reserve the right to make territorial claims. As of 2022, ATS has been signed by 53 countries. India signed it in 1983, attracting opposition within the country and from third-world nations that were initially against ATS for its rule of “no new territorial claims”. This rule means earlier claims by the rich nations must be respected by the signatories. In a way, ATS is similar to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: both endorse privileges to “original” players in the field – wealthy imperialists – and can be termed vestiges of colonialism. Alvaro de Soto, a Peruvian diplomat, once stated ATS would enable the rich and powerful to turn Antarctica into ‘their private hunting grounds.”


The effects of global warming are becoming apparent in Antarctica, with rapid melting of glaciers, changes in plant distribution, and breaking of ice sheets. Occurrences of warm winds have intensified, increasingly forming massive sastrugi (wavelike ridges of snow, formed perpendicular to the wind direction). East Antarctica is colder and more resilient to the effects of global warming than the western part. While scientific curiosity at East Antarctica looks back in time (Antarctic ice cores go back four billion years in the Earth’s climatic history, and the South Pole Telescope scans the space for radiations from the Big Bang almost 14 billion years ago), at the west it looks at the future. Scientists have confirmed that the central west region of the continent is the most rapidly warming region; it has warmed 2.5 0 C since 1950, almost five times than the rest of the world. Some 87 per cent of glaciers in the Antarctic Peninsula are in retreat. The sliding of ice streams – glaciers that are 50 km wide and up to 1 km thick that slide on the muddy base and drain the ice into the ocean— is accelerating. This could lead to a substantial rise in global sea level. The melting of Antarctica’s ice is so massive that the resulting mass imbalance has caused changes in the Earth’s gravitational forces, as detected by the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, a joint mission of US space agency nasa and the German Aerospace Centre. Since 1995, major ice shelves have been melting and breaking away, starting with the Larsen-A ice shelf that completely disintegrated due to global warming to the split of the gigantic Conger ice shelf in March this year. Perhaps this trend is a harbinger of the bleak future of this continent. Scientific consensus is that the next major geographic event will be the breaking of Antarctica. “Greenification” of the continent is another significant concern; as Antarctica gets warmer, species distributed in temperate and sub-polar regions can be introduced here. India’s scientific expedition to Antarctica began in 1981. It has two stations: Maitri (in an area claimed by Norway) and Bharati (under Australia’s claimed territory). Earlier this year, the Centre drafted the Antarctic Bill for governance of the stations.


Compared to Antarctica, India’s presence in the Arctic is more benign, with a small research base named Himadri in Norway. Since 2013, the country is also an observer to the Arctic Council, a forum of eight nations surrounding the Arctic. The council came into existence in the 1996 Ottawa Convention, and its members are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US. The Russia Ukraine war has thrown the council’s future into uncertainty. The effects of global warming are more prominent in the Arctic than Antarctica. This is because of the substantial northward alignment of continents, especially those emitting the most greenhouse gases (North America, Europe and Asia). This has two implications; first, the region gets heated up much faster than Antarctica, leading to accelerated glacial melting. Changes in seawater temperature can directly affect the Arctic, where the sea ice is floating in the ocean; in Antarctica, ice sheets reside on rock beds at the bottom of the continent and are buffered from changes in seawater for at least a few years. Second, as continents surrounding the Arctic are heavily populated, anthropogenic pressure, including pollution and agricultural run-off, is far more significant here. Greenification is also predicted to be more pronounced; the Siberian tundra region is expected to become an epicentre of global agriculture for a brief period before it becomes too warm. Additionally, there is also the so-called Arctic Haze, a brown haze visible in the spring. Studies have confirmed that it is caused by industrial activities in the Northern hemisphere—especially coal burning. A 2021 study by the Finnish Meteorological Institute also detected soot from India travelling to the Arctic. This soot can reduce the albedo effect of the snow, accelerating glacial melting. Estimates predict a grim future, with the Arctic’s summer sea ice completely disappearing by 2035. To save the Polar Regions, urgent action in the form of a new global agreement is the only solution. A global effort is needed to minimise emissions and embrace sustainability. Countries should draft an Arctic Treaty System in line with its Antarctic counterpart. India can leverage its polar missions to promote international peace and science diplomacy. It can also control its pollution levels and prevent dust, soot that can migrate to the Arctic

Oceans on Simmer

OCEANS REGULATE the climate by absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) and by altering the energy budget, carbon cycle and nutrient cycle. They have helped reduce the worst impacts of climate change by absorbing over 90 per cent of excess global temperature rise and about 25 per cent of CO 2 emission. However, global warming is causing (i) warming, (ii) acidification and (iii0 deoxygenation of oceans. The oceans have warmed unabated since 2005, continuing the clear multidecadal trends documented by the Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change (IPCC). At the ocean surface, temperature has on average increased by 0.88 0 C from 1850-1900 to 2011-2020, with 0.60 0 C of this warming having occurred since 1980. The ocean surface temperature is projected to increase by about 1.5 0 C by the 2050s with respect to the 1850-1990 threshold. The rise has been observed not only at the surface but also in deep ocean waters. The major impact of ocean warming is seen over the Arctic Ocean which will likely become practically sea ice free during the seasonal sea ice minimum for the first time before 2050. It is virtually certain that global mean sea level will rise through the 2050s because all contributors to global the mean sea level will likely continue. Relative to 1995-2014, the global mean sea level will rise 0.18 -0.23 m by 2050 ad by 0.38 – 0.77 m by 2100. The rise is mainly due to thermal expansion and mass loss from glaciers and ice sheets. Recent studies have suggested occurrence of marine heat waves (MHW); which are periods of extreme high sea surface temperatures. Unlike atmospheric heat waves, MHWS can extend millions of square kilometres and persist for weeks to months. MHW can lead to severe and persistent impacts on marine ecosystems, coral bleaching, changes in phytoplankton blooms, shift in species composition and toxic algal blooms. The IPCC climate change projections suggest that MHWS will become four times more frequent by 2080 compared to the 1995-2011 thresholds. The rate of ocean uptake of a atmospheric CO 2 has continued to strengthen in the recent two decades in response to the rising atmospheric CO 2 . The oceans are continuing to acidify in response to the carbon uptake. The open ocean surface water pH is observed to be declining by 0.017-0.027 pH units per decade since the late 1980s. there is a growing consensus that the open ocean is losing oxygen overall, with a very likely loss of 0.5-3.3 per cent between 1970-2010 from the ocean surface to 1000m. The oxygen minimum zones are expanding by a very likely range of 2-8 per cent most notable in the tropical oceans.


The warming of oceans has serious adverse impacts. It affects marine organisms at multiple levels, impacting fisheries and food production. Global warming can fundamentally alter ocean biodiversity. “The Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services” finds that 66 per cent of the global ocean is impacted by human pressures, with severe impacts in declining richness and abundance of ocean biodiversity. There is a high confidence in inferring that fisheries, catches and their composition in many regions are already impacted. The erosion of ocean biodiversity and ecosystems particularly threatens the livelihoods of local communities. For example, 80 per cent of all tourism is based near the sea, but the destruction of coral reefs is affecting that.


Costal ecosystems are observed to be under stress from ocean warming and sea level rise that are exacerbated by non-climatic pressures from human activities on ocean and land. The global wetland area has declined by nearly 50 per cent relative to preindustrial level. Warming related mangrove encroachment into subtropical salt marshes has been seen in the past 50 years. Since the early 1980s, the occurrence of harmful algal blooms and pathogenic organisms has increased in coastal areas due to warming, deoxygenation and eutrophication with negative impacts of food provisioning, tourism, economy and human health.


The ocean warming also will have impacts on weather systems around the world. A tropical cyclone (TC) is the most important severe weather system, which ocean warming can influence. An increasing trend in sea surface temperatures and ocean heat content could help TCs intensify quickly and travel long distances without losing appreciable energy. Studies have suggested that there is a 6 per cent per decade increase in major TC exceedance probability of 50. There is also evidence that TC intensification rates and the frequency of rapid intensification events have increased within the satellite era. The climate change projections suggest that average peak TC wind speeds and the proportion of very severe TCs will very likely to increase with global warming. It is also very likely that average TC rain-rates will increase with warming. The average locations where TCs reach their peak wind-intensity will migrate pole ward as the tropics expand with warming. The Indian Ocean is also warming and the trend is likely to continue. A warm Indian Ocean can lead to more intense precipitation events over India during the monsoon, as it will help to more moisture advection and convergence.


In view of the projected adverse impacts of warming oceans, there is a concern about the efficacy of ocean governance, highlighting the need for timely mitigation and adaptation responses. There are three major risks to oceans that arise from governance-related issues: (i) the impacts of the overexploitation of marine resources; (ii) inequitable distribution of access to and benefits from marine ecosystem services; and (iii) inadequate or inappropriate adaptation to changing ocean conditions. The actions that can reduce these risks relate to the process of co-creation and implementation of improved, comprehensive and integrated ocean management and enhancement of decision-making processes. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all UN member states, provides a blueprint for peace and prosperity for the planet. There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS), which are an urgent call for action. SDG 14 is to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. The UN has proclaimed a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) to support efforts and gather ocean stakeholders worldwide behind a common framework that will ensure ocean science can help countries to create improved conditions for sustainable development of the ocean. India is actively participating in both the initiatives

Decentralisation of Power

AVAILABILITY AND access uninterrupted and reliable energy sources is a prerequisite to enable an equitable and just development of communities, nations, and regions at large. Countries that have clear goals of raising the socio-economic conditions of their population have prioritized access to energy above other development goals. Construction and operation of power plants, as well as ensuring a steady supply of fuel of consistent quality, is a time-consuming and capital-intensive process. Governments have circumvented this barrier by building up interstate or transborder transmission and distribution networks with neighbouring nations to meet their internal power demands. Today, regional and cross-border power purchase agreements are a common means to bridge the power deficit and are practiced globally. There is definitely a progressive global approach towards building more inclusive and cooperative relationships for sharing resources. In the context of climate change, accessibility of electricity has become a two-dimensional tool for measuring a community or region’s progress. The first dimension is to determine the percentage of the population having access to electricity along with per capita consumption and its year-on year growth; while the second dimension pertains to analysing the means used to generate the electricity that is delivered—whether the source of energy generation is a polluting and fast-depleting fossil fuel or the vastly untapped non-polluting, environmentally benign renewable energy (RE). The first dimension has seen exceptional achievements in the majority of Asian and African countries in the last five decades. While the second determinant has garnered the attention of policymakers in countries globally.


In the last two decades, the Montreal Protocol and the Paris Convention have been the most widely ratified treaties of the United Nations. The Montreal Protocol has successfully delivered on its promises and the countries have shown serious commitments to achieve the energy transition goals projected under the Paris Agreement. What lies at the heart of this transition is a policy shift in the developed nations to decommission conventional generators and adopt a complete renewable platform for generating electricity. This demand from the developing nations is legitimate and just for the sheer factors such as the availability of economic, social, and technological resources to lead this transition process and to reduce their carbon emissions footprints rapidly. Targets to reduce the carbon footprints of the developing countries are largely set by the developed world, by the same developed nations that achieved industrialization in the 19th and 20th century. Therefore, there is a responsibility on the developed nations to deliver on the energy transition. Recent geo-political developments show that fossil fuels continue to cast a long shadow on the future and breaking free from them is not easy. The West’s reliability on fossil fuels and it turning a blind eye to the climate crisis while prioritizing power security, stands exposed. Since the Second World War, the West has proceeded on the assumption that the worst is over. The lessons were there for learning even during the Cold War era. But then, climate change and global warming were not seen as the clear and present dangers that could lead to extinction of humans. Today, they do not only persist, but active global climate change is being witnessed. The Pandemic and the Russia- Ukraine conflict have delayed hopes of an early and just transition. They have again exposed the insecurities surrounding energy. But they have also given opportunities to countries to recast their energy priorities.


Accessibility and affordability of power is the bedrock of socio-economic development. This approach has shifted the focus from the age-old model of power distribution through centralized transmission grids, with its high share of distribution losses – to decentralize self –sustaining community power generation and transmission models that can increase the accessibility to power. The future of energy transition lies in micro-management and community ownership. Countries such as India see centralized grids as a reliable and economic means of supplying power. But are the centralized grids of today really the most efficient means of reaching the farthest and the poorest? Off-grid power generation has to be catalysed. Investments for community upliftment can only come through government schemes and hinges on grant based models to succeed. There are many schemes that are notified by central and state governments for off-grid RE, focusing on rural and remote areas and to power income-generating activities that provide livelihood to the poor. The hope for the future lies in the fact that RE is decentralised, abundant, and adaptable to local needs. Though governments envisage extending the power lines from the central grid to energise remote areas, many communities at the far end of the line remain unserved. This is where empowering the stages, local bodies and panchayats to make the energy choices and to invest in RE assets can work to reduce the uncertainty and unreliability of power. We have to keep a constructive approach toward building an ecosystem that reverses global warming. \Since power supply unchored on RE can be unpredictable and amenable to resource shortages community or household projects, whether rooftop solar or for agricultural applications, have to be connected to the central grid for an uninterrupted power supply. The answer, therefore, may be found in constructing hybrid projects that can be designed to provide a continuous supply of power with better predictability. This would obliterate a lot of bottlenecks in the large scale adoption of RE sources. There are two factors that currently affect the growth of the RE sector: (i) climate finance and climate adaptation strategies; and (ii) sustainable RE models for reliable and consistent supply generation of electricity. The first aspect is part of the polity and policies of the developed nations that are major financiers of the climate transition projects. The EU and the West, by and large, have been committed to redesigning power markets and many efforts are underway. However, not all countries are aligning their goals to meet a common objective. How do we achieve this goal? Mia Mottley, the Prime Minister of Barbados, in her COP26 opening speech had an answer: “The train to ride the climate change is at the station and ready to go, we cannot wait for everyone to come on board for it to start, we have to work with the ones that are willing and persuade the rest.”

Does India care about TRIPS waiver anymore?

THERE ARE unusual goings-on at the World Trade Centre, where a much contested proposal to lift intellectual property (IP) restrictions on the manufacture of vital covid -19 therapies and vaccines has entered what appears to be the endgame. That proposal, made by India and South Africa (SA) in October 2020, sought a temporary waiver of the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s obstructive agreement on IP rights known as trips (Trade- Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) so that affordable vaccines and therapies could be made available to the global south, which has faced an acute shortage of medical items to fight the pandemic. The negotiations went nowhere because of the opposition of developed countries to any IP waivers on the lucrative vaccines and therapies produced by their drug companies. Early this year, an informal process was initiated by WTO Director-General Ngozi OkonjoIweala with the European Union— the main objectors to the waiver— along with the US, India and South Africa to break the long impasse. The Quad negotiations, as they became known, were conducted in secrecy and many rich countries had objected to it. In March, a leaked text of the Quad’s compromise agreement made the rounds globally and lead to an outcry, because the waiver was not only limited to vaccines but also came with a string of stricter new conditions than those embedded in trips (see ‘‘Compromise’ on trips waiver is a sellout’, Down To Earth 1-15 April, 2022). India remained enigmatically silent on the leaked text, refusing to own it. Ditto for South Africa. The US continued to play its careful diplomatic games, focused on its vaccines-only offer. The leaked document was forwarded on May 3 by the WTO chief as the outcome of the Quad negotiations to the new chair of the trips Council, Lansana Gberie of Sierra Leone, who promptly released it to the full membership after an informal Council meeting that was held on May 6. The apex trade body has characterized the Quad effort as “a problem-solving approach” aimed at “streamlining and simplifying how governments can override patent rights, under certain conditions, to enable diversification of production of covid -19 vaccines”. In short, a solution put together by the WTO chief who went on record soon after she took charge to say that a waiver was unnecessary The latest statement says the director-general “supported an informal group of ministers to come together around what could be a meaningful proposal that, without prejudice to their respective positions, could provide a platform to be built upon by the membership.” By excluding the over 100 members who backed the India-SA proposal from such discussions, Okonjo-Iweala has ensured the path ahead will remain difficult as there has been opposition to both the proposal and the process she has adopted. Only the EU has given its approval, since it has secured what it wants, while Washington is treading a careful path of supporting further meaningful talks. For instance, the UK, which is opposed to the waiver, has pointed out that since the proposal is not endorsed by any of the 164 member-states, the dialogue cannot be taken forward. China’s backing for the proposal—which would exclude it from the waiver—is also in doubt, although Okonjo-Iweala has claimed in a Reuters interview that Beijing is "favourably disposed" to being considered a developed country in this deal and thus agreeable to excluding itself. That would be a big concession, but there has been no confirmation from the Chinese. Other reports quoted an unnamed official as saying "most members" had sought more time to hold consultations internally before engaging in discussions. The draft proposal tabled on May 6 is a faithful reproduction of the leaked document, which in essence says the waiver applies to all developing countries except those that exported more than 10 per cent of the total world exports of COVID -19 vaccine doses in 2021. Currently limited to vaccines, the draft includes a proposal to extend the waiver to therapeutics and diagnostics within six months of the decision being applied to vaccines. The only changes are the additions of brackets around a couple of points, notably the troublesome requirement for a comprehensive patent listing by those using the waiver. This is a clear indication that such issues remain thorny. So, 19 months after the proposal was made, what do we have? The proposal also allows eligible members to issue a single authorisation to use multiple patents, export the vaccines and supply these to regional or global initiatives such as the World Health Organization (WHO)’s covax facility. Pertinently, it does not remove all IP barriers that could promote wider access to covid -19 medicines. Barring patents, it does not address the other forms IP restrictions such as trade secrets, undisclosed data, copyright and industrial design that enclose vaccines and medicines. As such, criticism of the limitations of the proposed waiver by humanitarian and public health organisations has become trenchant since the document was first leaked on March 15. Public Citizen, a US-based non-profit consumer advocacy organization, accuses WTO of using this text to show the institution’s relevance rather than to solve the real-world problems in global vaccine equity exacerbated by WTO rules. It states WTO officials are "mischaracterising" the text as if it has been agreed by all four Quad members. In fact, only the EU has signalled its support for the text, which is not surprising since it supports “their (the EU's) stance of using existing (insufficient) WTO rules in lieu of a meaningful waiver.” This begs a critical question. If India and SA have not agreed to the text, as some groups have assumed, why do they continue to remain silent? Are they under pressure to accept the current proposal, which is a truncated, mangled version of what they sought? Or is it a diplomatic ploy that will pay off when the final negotiations begin? The bigger enigma is India and the questions its stance provokes. Does New Delhi really care about a trips waiver anymore, especially a truncated one? Is it still on the same page as SA? The fact is, their interests have diverged. India is not in desperate need of vaccines. At the last count (on May 7), some 63 per cent of its people were fully vaccinated, 73 per cent had received at least one shot and another 7 per cent had got booster shots. India has fallen hugely behind in meeting promised supplies to covax after halting exports in 2021. As for therapies, its generic industry has negotiated a plethora of voluntary licensing agreements with drug giants such as Merck, Gilead, Pfizer and Eli Lilly. Neither the government—remember its affidavit in the Supreme Court explaining its refusal to use the existing flexibility of the compulsory licence route—nor the generic drug industry wants to rock the boat. Why press for a trips waiver when it has all it wants?