“Biodiversity starts in the distant past and it points towards the future. – Frans Lanting
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It should come as no surprise that our country, India, comes along with its extraordinarily diverse biological resources. Given that India has been a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity held at Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and further, “to provide for the conservation of Biological Diversity, sustainable use of its components and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use of biological resources and knowledge”, the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 was put into force by India to regulate the access and availability of its biological resources.
In common parlance, biodiversity refers to genetic diversity, species diversity, and community/ ecosystem diversity. Likewise, section 2(b) of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 defines “biological diversity” as the variability among living organisms from all sources and the ecological complexes of which they are part, and includes diversity within species or between species and of eco-systems”.
Diversity is a pre-requisite to long-term sustainability, continuity of life on earth, and subsistence of its incorruptibility. The Biological Diversity Act, 2002 places its concerns over the under-valuation and over-utilization of the biological diversities, their natural habitats, and the ecosystem as a whole, all of which are necessary to sustain life. This is exactly why at the heart of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, lies the preservation and conservation of diversity, guidelines under the purview of which the empowered authorities can act and the mechanisms to be followed while doing so.
ANATOMY OF THE ACT
The Act empowers the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), State Biodiversity Boards (SBB), and Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs). The National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), an autonomous statutory entity was designed to look into matters pertaining to the environment, forest, and climate change, in the year 2003 after signing the United Nations Convention. In exercise of powers conferred under sub-section (1) of Section 22 of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, the concerned Government of every State appoints a Board to supervise the operations at a State level. Correspondingly, Biodiversity Management Committees (BMC’s) are appointed to cater to the same at a local level.
THE ACT AND ITS UPSHOTS
The Biological Diversity Act, 2002 makes it obligatory to seek approval from the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) to access and use biological resources, or anything in connection thereto, with regards to commercial purposes, research & analysis, surveys, etc. It is also a direct consequence of the said Act, that one has to intimate the State Biodiversity Boards (SBB’s) in order to go about the aforementioned acts.
EXEMPTIONS UNDER THE ACT
Section 40 of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 states that the Central Government may exempt, via an official gazette, certain biological resources that are usually traded as commodities, only after consultation with the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA). That such a provision was made to facilitate trade and commerce. Such notification was last issued in 2017 by the Central Government which exempted an additional 36 biological resources from the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. However, it is rather interesting and pertinent to note that all such exemptions belong to the category of plants only.
INITATIVES BY THE GOVERNMENT
Over the years, the Government has taken various steps to curb the losses and put an end to the irreversible destruction occurring in the field of biological diversity.
The Fisheries Act 1897, Indian Forests Act 1927, Mining and Mineral Development Regulation Act 1957, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, Wildlife Protection Act 1972, Water (prevention and control of pollution) Act 1974, Forest Conservation Act 1980, Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981, Environment Protection Act 1986, Biological Diversity Act 2002, Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act 2006.
National Forest Policy, National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement on Environment and Development, National Policy and macro-level action strategy on Biodiversity, National Biodiversity Action Plan (2009), National Agriculture Policy, National Water Policy, National Environment Policy (2006).
Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010 have been framed for the protection of wetlands in the states. The Centrally Sponsored Scheme of National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Eco system also provides assistance to the States for the management of wetlands including Ramsar sites in the country. Wildlife Crime Control Bureau has been established for the control of illegal trade in wildlife, including endangered species. 
The projects undertaken to save wildlife include the Elephant Project, Tiger Project and UNDP Sea-Turtle Project, Vulture Conservation, and India Rhino Vision 2020.
BIODIVERSITY IN INDIA
India is just 2% of the world’s landmass but is home to 8% of the world’s biodiversity. Among plants, 33% of the world’s species are endemic to India, which means they are found nowhere else in the world. The ‘Kharai’, a unique breed of camels that can swim are only found in Kutch, Gujarat. India is home to nearly half of the world’s aquatic plants. India ranks 10th in plant-rich countries in the world. There are 50,000 varieties of rice alone found in the country, making it the biggest reservoir of rice on earth. 
On the other hand, however, 929 species of animals in India are threatened today and Indian Rhinoceros, Pink-headed duck, and the Himalayan Mountain Quail – have become extinct in the last century. Every 20 minutes a species is becoming extinct in the world, the next maybe from India. Further, only 1 percent of India’s vast coastline is protected. · Sundarbans Mangrove Ecosystem has been evaluated as endangered by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
The increase in the ‘red list’ species indicates severe stress on biodiversity and wild habitats. At present, India has a total of 683 animal species in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) critically endangered, endangered, and vulnerable categories, as compared to 646 species in 2014 when the fifth national report was submitted, and 413 in these categories in 2009 when the fourth national report was submitted. 
BIODIVERSITY CRISIS: WHY ONE MUST CARE?
Loss of Biological Diversity – another significant contributory to frequent pandemics
Biodiversity is the essence of nature and indispensable to human life. Even then, the planet is facing a biodiversity crisis. There are many issues which pose a great threat to the existential biodiversity, some of it being climate change, impetuous use of the natural resources, habitat degradation, turning greens to greys (deforestation and excessive urbanization), pollution, oil, and gas drilling, oil spills, reduction in levels of groundwater, etc.
Ever since humans have invaded the natural habitats of the varied species of animals in ways one cannot possibly fathom, the repercussions have been borne by all living beings, worldwide. Going against the laws of nature and stripping the animals and alike species of their homes, has increased the probability of viruses moving onto humans from animals. The same pave way for something known as ‘zoonotic diseases’. One such Mr. D. Raghunandan of Delhi Science Forum shared that, “The more human beings exploit biodiversity, the more the likelihood of such pandemics like COVID-19 to occur frequently.”
“Look closely at nature. Every species is a masterpiece, exquisitely adapted to the particular environment in which it has survived. Who are we to destroy or even diminish biodiversity?” – E. O. Wilson
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Nearly every problem has a solution, as long as it’s dealt with in the nick of time. In order to combat the on-going biodiversity crisis, the first step is that one has to be well aware of the fact that there is one. A thorough study of the stage where we are headed at shall build a base for oneself and the authorities in power to come up with viable solutions. Having well-drafted laws will not bridge the gap unless and until they are implemented effectively. Along with that, awareness programs should be periodically organized. The creation of biodiversity registers at the district, local and national level, shore protection, management of non-biodegradable waste, afforestation, etc. can be some of them. There are off-course in-situ as well as ex-situ ways to conserve biodiversity. Increase in the number of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, biosphere reserves, sacred grooves & lakes, World Heritage Sites make some of the in-situ ways for the conservation of biological diversity; while cryopreservation, the establishment of seed banks, gene banks, botanical gardening, zoological gardening, home gardening prove to be effective ex-situ ways for biological diversity conservation.
“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second-best time is now.” -Dambisa Moyo
Humans are not the sole occupants of this planet. Be that as it may, the choices and demands of this one specific specie seem to be evidently endangering all other species and the very existence of the planet.
“Either we leave our descendants an endowment of zero poverty, zero fossil-fuel use, and zero bio-diversity loss, or we leave them facing a tax bill from earth that could wipe them out.” – Johan Rockstrom
Ramsar sites (Wetlands) in India: Memorize faster, available at https://www.clearias.com/ramsar-sites-wetlands-india/ (last visited on September 18, 2020).
India Has An Incredible Biodiversity & These 10 Facts Prove Just That, available at https://www.scoopwhoop.com/india-biodiversity-beauty-wildlife/#:~:text=India%20is%20just%202%25%20of,reefs%2C%20India%20has%20it%20all (last visited on September 19, 2020).
 The ICUN Red List of Threatened Species, available at https://www.iucnredlist.org/ (last visited on September 20, 2020).
BY NASHEET HAMUDLAY | ILS LAW COLLEGE, PUNE