On August 3, 2023, amid objections from opposition leaders, activists, stakeholders, and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Act, 2023, received the President’s assent. Among the amendments to the principal Act of 2002 was the exemption granted to “AYUSH practitioners and traditional knowledge holders” from paying Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS), a compensatory amount paid to tribal and other communities who traditionally gather, protect, and use herbs and medicinal plants that are also important for the AYUSH industry.
AYUSH industry associations—Ayurvedic Drug Manufacturers Association, Ayurvedic Medicine Manufacturers Organisation of India, Association for Manufacturers of Ayurvedic Medicines, and AYUSH Manufacturers Welfare Association—had submitted to the Expert Committee set up by the Environment Ministry that Indian entities are not liable to pay ABS and that State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) are not entitled to collect it. AYUSH is an acronym for “Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha & Sowa Rigpa, and Homoeopathy”, and manufacturers who sell such medicines or treatments are clubbed under the AYUSH industry.
The exemption, in effect, means giving the AYUSH industry a free pass, explained M.K. Ramesh, professor of law at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru, and former law expert at the National Biodiversity Authority. It also removes the regulatory checks that ensure the sustenance of tribal and other forest-dwelling communities who are involved in the conservation of resources.
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