Access Benefit Sharing

Justice U.C. Dhyani of Uttarakhand High court passed a ruling deciding several writ petitions filed by various paper mill companies against notices issued against them by the Uttarakhand State Biodiversity Board (SBB).

The impugned notices were sent by SBB as it considered that the petitioners failed to provide prior intimation to SBB for obtaining biological resources for certain purposes as per sections 7 and 24 of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002.

Section 7 mandates prior intimation for obtaining biological resources for commercial utilization, bio-survey and bio-utilization for commercial utilization. Section 24 gives the SBB the power to restrict or prohibit any of the above activities should they be found to be detrimental. The Petitioners approached the writ court demanding several reliefs challenging SBB’s demand for information on access for material from other states being unconstitutional. The other pleas taken included:

    1. non- applicability of the Guidelines on Access to Biological Resources and Associated Knowledge and Benefit Sharing Regulations, 2014 to transactions between Indian entities;
    2. interpretation of the term “commercial utilization” as per s.2(f)- Petitioners argued that they belonged to an industry, which would not fall under ‘commercial utilization’ as defined in Section 2(f).;
    3. interpretation of the term “‘biological resource’ – Petitioners argued that waste paper is not a ‘biological resource’ as defined u/s.2(c);
    4. no restrictions/actions can be taken by the Board u/s. 24(1) in the absence of rules being framed u/s 63 and s.2(k) of the Act;
    5. reliance of the Board, in the impugned notices, on the act and guidelines issued by the Central government being unconstitutional.

Findings in the order:-

Preliminary objection on the maintainability of the writ petition u/s. 52A of the Act were raised by the SBB arguing that Section 52A allowed for an appeal to the NGT from an SBB or NBA order, which is where the grievance should have been filed.

Section 52 deals with an appeal to National green tribunal (NGT). Section 52A states that any person aggrieved by any determination of benefit sharing or order of the National Biodiversity Authority or a State Biodiversity Board under this Act, on or after the commencement of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, may file an appeal to the National Green Tribunal established under section 3 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, in accordance with the provisions of that Act.

Petitioners counter argued that since no order was passed by the SBB u/s. 24(2) of the Act the matter was not cognizable by the NGT and the writ was maintainable. The Court by agreeing with the Petitioners arguments upheld the maintainability of the writ petitions.

The Court refraining from giving any opinion on the issue of whether ‘waste paper’ would be considered as biological resource or not, has ordered that the Petitioner is under liability and is bound to give desired information of access, which is an admitted position, within the territorial boundary of Uttarakhand to the SBB.

Further, the Court dealt with the issue of liability of petitioners of giving information to the SBB in the absence of any rules and prescribed form. The Court ruled that the Petitioners are bound by section 7 of the Act to give prior intimation of any access of biological recourse even in the absence of any prescribed form. Furthermore dealing with the modality of said information, where the SBB has not made any rules and have not provided forms, the Court held that it should be left to the discretion of the Petitioners to supply desired information in whatever form they like but with due regard to the provisions of the act.

The writ petitions were dismissed with the following directions:

  1. the Petitioners to provide information to Uttarakhand SBB in respect of biological resource obtained from Uttarakhand within four weeks;
  2. that Uttarakhand SBB not to compel the Petitioners to submit information from outside the territorial boundaries of the state; and
  3. no penal action to be prosecuted provided the Petitioners comply with this order.
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