Bit­ter ABS medicine for AYUSH

Man­u­fac­tur­ers cry foul as they re­ceive no­tices from state boards to pay roy­alty

Down to Earth - - COLUMN -

Wfor bio­di­ver­sity is not al­ways HAT'S GOOD good for busi­ness—or so it ap­pears. The long over­due guide­lines on ac­cess and ben­e­fit shar­ing (abs) of bi­o­log­i­cal re­sources no­ti­fied by the Union Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment, For­est and Cli­mate Change (moef&cc) in Novem­ber 2014 is prov­ing to be bit­ter physic for the mak­ers of ayush or tra­di­tional medicines who fear their healthy prof­its will decline. ayush is an acro­nym for tra­di­tional In­dian med­i­cal sys­tems of ayurveda,yoga,unani and sid­dha apart from home­opa­thy.

In just two months af­ter the guide­lines were is­sued, states have is­sued no­tices to hun­dreds of units that use herbs and plant re­sources to make tra­di­tional medicines to pay the abs roy­alty. The rules, in­tended to pro­mote sus­tain­able use of bio re­sources, give state bio­di­ver­sity boards (sbbs) the power to de­ter­mine the amount of roy­alty or ben­e­fit shar­ing to be paid by mak­ers of ayush prod­ucts that are en­joy­ing a boom. But if the cries of protest are any­thing to go by,in­dus­try is un­likely to ac­cept the new dis­pen­sa­tion meekly af­ter the free run it has en­joyed for the past decade through suc­cess­ful lob­by­ing.

Although In­dia passed the Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity Act (bda) in 2002, the man­dated abs guide­lines were held back by the gov­ern­ment be­cause of pres­sure from the ayush in­dus­try. With tra­di­tional sys­tems of medicine in­creas­ingly find­ing favour with pa­tients who suf­fer from a host of ail­ments and dis­eases that the al­lo­pathic sys­tem is un­able to treat, the mar­ket has been grow­ing at a fast clip both here and abroad. The re­luc­tance of moef&cc to no­tify the rules for so long is said to have helped ayush mak­ers to avoid pay­ing any roy­alty to sbbs, a sum that is said to run into sev­eral thou­sand crore ru­pees. An un­named of­fi­cial of the Ker­ala sbb was re­cently quoted as say­ing the states lose as much as 10,000 crore an­nu­ally while the apex Na­tional Bio­di­ver­sity Author­ity (nba) is de­prived of an­other 5,000 crore.

Un­der the new rules,do­mes­tic and for­eign com­pa­nies will have to pay 0.1 to 1 per cent roy­alty on their gross sales of prod­ucts us­ing bi­o­log­i­cal re­sources and tra­di­tional knowl­edge.Those who fail to do so face jail terms of three to five years with fines.abs has to be paid by any ayush unit that ex­tracts plant based ma­te­ri­als for com­mer­cial pur­poses. Do­mes­tic man­u­fac­tur­ers can­not use th­ese bio re­sources with­out get­ting the per­mis­sion of their re­spec­tive sbbs, while for­eign com­pa­nies must ap­proach nba.

sbbs, fund-starved and champ­ing at the bit all th­ese years, have been en­thu­si­as­tic in is­su­ing no­tices to ayush units in re­cent weeks. News re­ports say that the Ker­ala ssb, the most ex­em­plary in pro­tect­ing its bio re­sources, has is­sued no­tices to 800 ayurvedic man­u­fac­tur­ers while a newly gal­vanised Ma­ha­rash­tra sbb has asked 1,500 ayush units in the state to com­ply with the lat­est bda guide­lines.

But th­ese guide­lines are vague and con­fus­ing, claims in­dus­try which is pal­pa­bly wor­ried by the hit it will take on prof­its. For the in­dus­try’s lobby group,the Ayurvedic Drugs Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (adma), the key is­sue re­volves around what is known as the “nor­mally traded as com­modi­ties” or ntac list. Those plant va­ri­eties listed as ntac are ex­empt from the purview of bda.

The ntac list has been highly con­tro­ver­sial. In 2009, the en­vi­ron­ment min­istry had put 190 bio re­sources on this list, prompt­ing an out­cry from con­ser­va­tion­ists who al­leged this had been done at the be­hest of in­dus­try and trade which had brought in the pow­er­ful Min­istry of Com­merce to weigh in on their side. adma, which is con­fronting the newly em­pow­ered sbbs, now says the ntac is be­ing “wrongly in­ter­preted”.

Hope­fully, how­ever, the fight be­tween prof­its and con­ser­va­tion may be more evenly matched this time.

TARIQUE AZIZ / CSE

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