America, India, Agriculture & IPR

When George Bush flew down to India in March ’06, he visited, my hometown, Hyderabad like his predecessor Clinton. However unlike Clinton who headed for Hi-Tech City, which is the software hub of Hyderabad, Bush visited the Archarya N.G. Ranga Agri University, where according to a press release “the President patted a buffalo named Murra” and “cuddled 4-year-old Venkatamma”. The reason for the visit was the fact that Bush was formalizing an agreement which came to be known as the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA) which would herald the Second Green Revolution according to the Dr. Singh’s Government. While Dr. Singh’s government was almost Killed In Action (KIA) because of the Indo-U.S. nuke agreement, the government has surprisingly escaped any high decibel vocal opposition towards the KIA. The newsmagazine Outlook however carried a story on the KIA in its last issue reporting that The Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) had recently sent an open letter to the Prime Minister requesting him to suspend the deal.

The CSA argues rather convincingly that the KIA is flawed. The flaws stated by them seem to be the hallmarks of Indian policy making these days – lack of public consultation, bypassing the democratic process, total lack of transparency (I couldn’t even find a copy of the KIA on the internet!) & accountability and of course opposition from the CPI(M)! However I’m going to stick to only one point that is the issue of Intellectual Property Rights in the KIA.

The KIA basically attempts to provide technological inputs into Indian agriculture. It does this by promoting joint research, with the Americans, into better technology for Indian farmers and improving the linking of farmers to the market. One of the problems with this as stated by the CPI(M), the Gene Campaign and the CSA is that the KIA is unclear on the issue of IPRs. There is fear that the KIA may allow American researchers access to India’s Gene Banks which are one of the richest in the world since India is one of the 12 mega-diversity centres in the world. Once access is granted there is the problem of whether the Americans will have the right to patent the material, whether they can take it out of India and whether they will violate the farmers and stakeholders rights under The Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmer’s Rights and the Biological Diversity Act. The possibility of this happening is not very unlikely especially given the fact that Uncle Sam has not yet ratified the Convention on Bio-Diversity (CBD). (SpicyIP had recently posted on the Indian Biological Diversity Act which was legislated on the basis of the CBD.)

The KIA is supposed to be implemented by a Joint Board of Americans and Indians. When questioned on the issue of IPRs over potential research the Board members initially claimed that they would decide IP Rights on a case to case basis depending on the inputs and outcome. However in a press release by the ICAR on the eve of the 3rd meeting of the Board, it was clarified that “IPR portfolio management would essentially be as per the stipulations and provisions of National Law as per Indian Patents Act and Plant Varieties Protection and Farmers’ Rights Act.” The press release went on to say that “On genetic resources, it emerged clearly that there is no exchange of germplasm as envisaged in the Work Plan.” What the press release did not mention was the working of the Biological Diversity Act. This is extremely crucial because as SpicyIP has already mentioned earlier the Biological Diversity Act has created (atleast on paper) a whole bureaucratic machinery in the form of the National Biological Authority at the centre and a much more decentralized mechanism at the state and district level to ensure that patent rights and royalties were shared adequately with the local communities whose bio-resources were used. I am at a complete loss to understand how the Government of India has chosen instead to completely bypass a statutory authority created by the Parliament of India and instead vest such decisions in a Joint Indo-U.S Board which by the way has as members, Executives of Monsanto and Walmart. This is all the more worrying because of the fact that this present mechanism seeks to centralize the entire process in comparison to the mechanism under the Indian Act which, on paper atleast, envisages a decentralized mechanism. It would be interesting to file an application, under the Right to Information Act, with the Ministry of Commerce to find out the exact position of the Government on the Biological Diversity Act vis-à-vis the Joint Board under the KIA. Any volunteers in New Delhi?


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