“Biodiversity mainstreaming is key to achieving SDGs”

Dr VB Mathur

Eminent environmentalist of the country, Dr VB Mathur is the chairman National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), Chennai. Dr Mathur is the former head of Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun. In a freewheeling interview with Abhilash Khandekar, he tells Urban Update how biodiversity governance is being strengthened in rural and urban India. Excerpts:

How do you think the implementation of the Biological Diversity Act 2002 has happened over the past 18 years? Has it been implemented in letter and spirit? Are you satisfied?
Considering the importance of biodiversity for human well-being and development, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, adopted the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). India became a Party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in the year 1994. In pursuance to the CBD, India enacted the Biological Diversity (BD) Act in 2002, and notified the Rules in 2004, through an extensive consultative process initiated in 1994. The National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) was set up in Chennai in 2003. India become a party to CBD’s Nagoya Protocol on Access & Benefit Sharing (ABS) in 2014.
Hence, processes and the time lines go much beyond the 18 years. BD Act is implemented through a three-tier institutional mechanism, at national, state and local levels: National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) at the national level, State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) set up by the State Governments at the State level, and Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) set up by the elected bodies at the local level. As per the provisions of the Act, all the three institutions set up under the Act are autonomous and
statutory bodies.
Accordingly, State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) have been established in all 28 states. Protection of forests and wildlife being in the concurrent list, twenty-six (26) states have notified the state specific rules in accordance with the provisions of the Act. At the local body level, 2,53,767 BMCs have been set up in all the 28 States and 3 UTs. 18 States and 2 UTs have notified the list of threatened species of Plants and Animals. 18 Biodiversity Heritage Sites have been notified across 11 States. The NBA has recently empowered all UTs to establish the UTs Biodiversity Councils similar to the State Biodiversity Boardsas part of the decentralization process.
Obviously my satisfaction level is mixed. While I am happy that many things have happened, but I do realize that many more things remain to happen. Further, the implementation of the BD Act needs to be further strengthened and more benefits to the local communities who are the ‘conservers’ of the biological resources have to be provided. I must say that efforts to speed up effective implementation are currently on with full intent and purpose.

Well after 18 years of the enforcement of the Act, one finds general apathy towards conservation of biodiversity in states. Especially among those who are expected, by the Act, to implement. Comment!
Conservation of biodiversity is a multi-sectoral endeavor and involves multiple stakeholder participation at various tiers of governance. The NBA has recently assessed that, at the Central Government level, there are 116 schemes implemented by 24 Ministries and 29 Departments that have relevance to biodiversity conservation in one way or the other. This means that apart from MoEFCC, the key ministry mandated with biodiversity conservation, there are 23 other ministries that have stakes in the conservation of biodiversity. Similar situation prevails in the States as well. Hence, mainstreaming biodiversity across sectors becomes very relevant.
Several stakeholders are now realizing the importance of biodiversity mainstreaming. To cite one example, Ministry of Panchayati Raj which is the key ministry responsible for efficient functioning at the local body level is considering to provide funds for preparation of Peoples’ Biodiversity Registers (PBRs). The NBA has also approached Ministry of Corporate Affairs for inclusion of biodiversity conservation as part its CSR activities. Hence, of late there has been an enhanced sensitivity and innovative actions for conservation of biodiversity. The NBA is also engaging with Institutions such as National Academy of Agricultural Research Management (NAARM) to deliberate on mainstreaming biodiversity concerns in the Agriculture sector.
The NBA continues to engage with various stakeholders across the spectrum to take forward the conservation of biodiversity. These engagements percolate to the States as well. States and stakeholders have their own constraints and limitations in promoting biodiversity conservation. However, things are changing, perhaps slowly. There are some good initiatives and activities being done at the district and block/village levels which give me a positive traction. However, as I said NBA’s engagement and resource mobilization needs to be further enhanced.

The Act paved way for formation of NBA and State Biodiversity Boards. What are the achievements of the NBA so far and what are future plans?
The answer to the first question is relevant here as well. Of late, there have been a slew of initiatives by the Government of India to strengthen the biodiversity governance in the country. To give one example, the Prime Minister’s Science, Technology, Innovation Advisory Council (PM-STIAC), has decided to launch a National Biodiversity and Human Well-being Mission. Chairperson,National Biodiversity Authority is the Mission Leader for this important mission.
The Mission aims to bring biodiversity and conservation to the forefront of Indian science, policy, and society’s attention.

Conservation of biodiversity is a multi-sectoral endeavor and involves multiple stakeholder participation at various tiers of governance. The NBA has recently assessed that, at the Central Government level, there are 116 schemes implemented by 24 Ministries and 29 Departments that have relevance to biodiversity conservation in one way or the other. This means that apart from MoEFCC, the key ministry mandated with biodiversity conservation, there are 23 other ministries that have stakes in the conservation of biodiversity. Similar situation prevails in the States as well. Hence, mainstreaming biodiversity across sectors becomes very relevant

How satisfactorily are the State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) working? What are the challenges they face? Which state, as per you is doing well and why?
The State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) are autonomous and statutory bodies viz a viz the implementation of the provisions of the BD Act and Rules are concerned.
SBBs face similar challenges of financial and human resource constraints. Thanks to the case of Chandra Bal Singh vs Union of India &Ors. [O.A. No. 347/2016], before the National Green Tribunal Principal Bench, there has been a greater sensitivity at the States level for effective implementation of the provisions of the Act and Rules especially, the constitution of Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) and preparation of Peoples’ Biodiversity Registers(PBRs). Presently 253767 BMCs representing 92% and 132653 PBRs representing 48% are in various stages of preparation. PBRs are dynamic documents and have to be continuously updated.
States like Kerala, Goa and Telangana are performing well. This is largely due to the fact that a high level of biodiversity awareness prevails in these states and the state governments are more supportive. Others are also moving forward.

In most of the urban areas (Municipal Corporations), there is simply no awareness nor any cell nor officers for biodiversity conservation. Also, no budgets. How do you see this?
I partially agree that there is little awareness for biodiversity conservation in the urban areas including Municipal Corporations. But the judicial pronouncements by the NGT in the case referred above were very clear that constitution of BMCs and preparation of PBRs have to be carried out at all levels of the local bodies and this includes municipal corporations as well.
This issue is also being addressed, in part through several such parallel initiatives of the Government of India such as Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and Smart City Mission, wherein greater integration of biodiversity components into urban planning is being done.

Other ministries such as Agriculture, Rural Development, Panchayat and Tribal Affairs are also expected to extend support to MoEFCC in this arena. What would you suggest to improve synergies among these ministries?
There has been an ongoing effort of MoEFCC supported ably by NBA. As mentioned earlier, we are in dialogue with Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development, Panchayat and Tribal Affairs to integrate concerns of biodiversity conservation in the various schemes and programmes being implemented these Ministries. Of late, a series of communications and stakeholder engagementshave taken place leading to very positive outcomes.
Biodiversity mainstreaming in the development planning of all key ministries is a critical requirement for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and for strengthening biodiversity conservation and this is being pursued actively by NBA.

By now, all local self-government bodies should have had the PBR ready. How many are in existence and how much satisfied are you with the standard achieved?
The preparation of the PBRs by the duly constituted BMC is one of the most important provisions of the BDA 2002. PBRs attempt to record people’s knowledge and perceptions of the status, uses, history, on-going changes and forces driving these changes in the biological diversity resources in their own localities.
Presently, 132653 PBRs have been completed, or are in various stages of preparation. PBR preparation is a dynamic process involving multi-season data/information. The preparation and completion of PBRs is indeed a formidable challenge. Lack of financial as well as technical capacity are two major constraints. Several options/alternatives are being tried. Quality of PBR is also an important issue. The Government of India has set up two Expert Committees to monitor the PBRs and the NBA has developed a PBR Quality Evaluation Framework. Such committees are also being set up at the State/UT level so that coverage of PBR quality evaluation is increased.

Same is the case with BMCs. As per the BDA, the committees should have been there all over. I am told about 2.50 lakh committees exist today, most of them only on paper. How would you reflect on this?
The first step towards operationalization of the BMC is to constitute them at every local body level and duly notify these BMCs. Hon’ble NGT passed multiple orders directing the MoEFCC, the NBA and the SBBs to ensure compliance in the constitution of BMCs and preparation of PBRs within six months and directed the MoEFCC and the NBA to monitor the same. The orders also emphasised that in case of defaults, the states will be fined Rs. 10 lakhs per month each from February 1, 2020. I am pleased to say that the first stage compliance of Hon’ble NGT Order to constitute all BMCs has nearly been achieved with 253767 BMCs out of 275699 been constituted. Now is the next step of moving beyond constitution and operationalizing the BMCs in an effective manner, which is being done by the NBA now very rigorously.

Lastly, have the Aichi Targets (like the SDGs) been achieved? There were 10-12 targets decided by India. What were they and what is the status as of today?
Using the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its 20 Aichi Global Biodiversity Targets as a framework, India has developed 12 National Biodiversity Targets through extensive stakeholder consultations and public outreach, which now form an Addendum to the NBAP 2008 and NBAP Addendum 2014. Together they form the blueprint for biodiversity conservation in the country.
India’s Sixth National Report the CBD provides an update of progress in achievement of 12 National Biodiversity Targets (NBT) developed under the Convention process in line with the 20 global Aichi biodiversity targets. Briefly, the Report highlights that while India has achieved two NBTs, it is on track to achieve eight NBTs and in respect of the remaining two NBTs also, India is striving to meet the targets.
With well over 20 percent of its total geographical area under biodiversity conservation, India has exceeded the terrestrial component of 17 percent of Aichi target 11, and 20 percent of corresponding NBT relating to areas under biodiversity management. Similarly, India has also made noteworthy achievement towards NBT relating to access and benefit sharing (ABS) by operationalizing the Nagoya Protocol on ABS. Having published the first internationally recognized certificate of compliance (IRCC) under the Protocol in 2015, India has since published nearly 67% of the IRCCs published so far on ABS Clearing House.

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