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December 11, 2017

At what cost India is encouraging the rising export of medicinal herbs?


Lalit Shastri

The provisions of Biological Diversity Act have to be enforced in letter and spirit. If this is not done, conservation will become a casualty. Already one is witnessing reckless and uncontrolled collection of herbs to meet the domestic and international demand for herbal medicines. In the process, biodiversity is being devastated and there is massive disruption of the eco-system. The trend, if not arrested, will threaten the very survival of humankind.

The details of AYUSH exports and value added extracts of medicinal Herbs presented in Parliament today by Minister of State (Independent Charge) for AYUSH, Shripad Yesso Naik shows a marked increase in the demand for AYUSH products in foreign countries over the last three year period.

India exports AYUSH products including extracts of medicinal herbs to about 100 countries.

The Ayush products are exported as Ayurveda medicines to a few countries and as dietary supplements, nutraceuticals and herbal supplements to other countries.

Table showing year-wise increase in demand for Ayush products

(US$ in Million)

Year

AYUSH Products

Value added extracts of medicinal herbs

Total

2014-15

116.52 236.41 352.93

2015-16

108.76 249.84

358.60

2016-17 123.42 280.17

403.59

The excitement at the government level and the determination to ensure there is a progressive increase in export of Ayush products, especially extracts of medicinal Herbs, both in terms of volume and value, is explicit in the minister’s written reply in Parliament today.


Notwithstanding the commitment displayed by Government of India in this regard, the big question is what about the enforcement of the provisions of the Biological Diversity Act.

Section 3. (1) of BDA says that no person, who is not a citizen of India or a citizen of India, who is a non-resident as defined in clause (30) of section 2 of the Income-tax Act, 1961; a body corporate, association or organization not incorporated or registered in India; or incorporated or registered in India under any law for the time being in force which has any non-Indian participation in its share capital or management as per sub-section (2) of this section, shall without previous approval of the National Biodiversity Authority (BDA), obtain any biological resource occurring in India or knowledge associated with it for research or for commercial utilization or for bio-survey and bio-utilization.

The National Biodiversity Authority may, while granting the approval under this section, impose benefit sharing fee or royalty or both or impose conditions including the sharing of financial benefits arising out of the commercial utilization of such rights. Section 6 (2) of The Biological Diversity Act

The National Biodiversity Authority shall while granting approvals under section 19 or section 20 ensure that the terms and conditions subject to which approval is granted secures equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use of accessed biological resources, their by-products, innovations and practices associated with their use and applications and knowledge. Section 21. (1) of The Biological Diversity Act

Where any amount of money is ordered by way of benefit sharing, the National Biodiversity Authority may direct the amount to be deposited in the National Biodiversity Fund. Section 21. (3) of The Biological Diversity Act

Furthermore Section 7 of BDA makes it mandatory that no person, who is a citizen of India or a body corporate, association or organization which is registered in India, shall obtain any biological resource for commercial utilization, or bio-survey and bio-utilization for commercial utilization except after giving prior intimation to the concerned State Biodiversity Board. This is a water-tight provision for industry and commercial producers of herbal medicines and other herbal products The only exception to this provision under the BDA are the local people and communities of the area, including growers and cultivators of biodiversity, and vaids and hakims, who have been practicing indigenous medicine.

The National Biodiversity Authority has been entrusted with the mandatory and regulatory power to regulate foreign companies or those run by NRIs under Sections 3, 4 and 6 of BDA and also issue guidelines for “access to biological resources and for fair and equitable benefit sharing of Biodiversity”.

It is also the responsibility of NBA to ensure that the terms and conditions on the basis of which approval is granted secure equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use of accessed biological resources and their by-products.

Under this Act, the State Biodiversity Boards have been empowered to ensure and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of biological resources. The Boards also have the power to prohibit or restrict any such activity if it is of opinion that such activity is detrimental or contrary to the objectives of conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity or equitable sharing of benefits arising out of such activity.

Now question arises what has been the total amount of money collected by the NBA and State Biodiversity Boards under the “sharing of benefits” provision as a result of the export of Ayush medicines and herbal diet supplements to a large number of countries, besides the production and marketing of these products in the domestic market. When contacted, knowledgeable sources informed that there has been total failure in terms of enforcement when it comes to “equitable sharing of benefit”. If this provision had been enforced, thousands of crores of rupees could have been collected and got deposited in the National Biodiversity Fund for being channelised for the purpose of conservation, sustainable livelihood and long-term benefit of the stakeholders.

Ensuring compliance with regard to “access benefit sharing”, is part of the responsibility of NBA and State Biodivesity Boards. These authorities, besides guaranteeing equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use of biological resources, are also supposed to ensure conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of biological resources.

The provisions of Biological Diversity Act have to be enforced in letter and spirit. If this is not done, conservation will become a casualty. Already one is witnessing reckless and uncontrolled collection of herbs to meet the domestic and international demand for herbal medicines. In the process, biodiversity is being devastated and there is massive disruption of the eco-system. The trend, if not arrested, will threaten the very survival of humankind.

The Minister said in his written reply in Lok Sabha today that in order to further increase the export of Ayush products, the Ministry of AYUSH offers incentives to the AYUSH industry under its Central Sector Scheme for International Cooperation. The Government helps them in getting market authorization/ registration for their products by the regulatory bodies of different countries such as USFDA, EMEA, UK-MHRA, NHPD and TGA. Help is also extended by the Govenrment to to enable th Ayush industry to participate in international exhibitions, trade fairs, and road shows to create awareness about their products.

For facilitating exports, Ministry of AYUSH encourages Voluntary Certification of the quality of Pharmaceutical Products (CoPP) under WHO Guidelines

There is also the Quality Certifications Scheme, implemented by the Quality Council of India (QCI) for grant of AYUSH Premium mark to Ayurvedic, Siddha and Unani products on the basis of third party evaluation of quality in accordance with the status of compliance to international standards.


Even the Department of Commerce, under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, provides support for export of traditional medicines through Pharmexcil by giving opportunity to small and medium scale companies for business meetings and also providing a global platform to showcase their products. Pharmexcil organises Buyer-Sellers and Reverse Buyer-Sellers Meets focused on AYUSH and AYUSH related products.

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