With growing interest in medicinal plants, the need of the hour is a long term strategy to conserve and sustainably harvest these plant products. The use of medicinal plants in India and many other developing countries can be considered a living tradition. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that the primary health care needs of approximately 80 per cent of the developing world’s population are met by traditional medicine.[i] Traditional Knowledge, per se, does not fall under any particular category but it ranges from the Ayurvedic, Unani, Siddha and Tibetan in India, the Kampo in Japan, the Jamu in Indonesia, and many more. The traditional systems of medicine largely depend on natural resources for their medicines, out of which plants form the bulk of the medicine.[ii] India, somehow, seems to be stranded between the international conventions and her nation’s need. A major concern for developing countries is the TRIPS Agreement which obligates all members to provide patent in all the field of technology and also provide IPRs (either by patents or a sui generis system) for plant varities. This essay shall put some light on the importance of protection of medicinal plants in India.
MEDICINAL PLANTS IN INDIA:
The All India ethnobiology Survey carried out by the Ministry of Environment and Forests estimates that over 7,500 species of plants are estimated to be used by 4,635 ethnic communities for human and veterinary health care across the country.[iii] These plants however face threat of habitat destruction. Under the Forest (Conservation) Act ,1980 and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, medicinal plants do get some amount of protection. But a lot of medicinal plants grow away from the protected areas domain and since there is no consolidated strategy for medicinal plants, a lot of them just disappear without any of its knowledge. Within protected areas also, the lack of a focused conservation strategy could cause a depletion of this valuable resource. Along with this, is an increased threat to the availability of medical plants. Over 95 per cent of the medicinal plants used by the Indian pharmaceutical industry are today collected from the wild.[iv] Over 70 per cent of the plant collections involve the use of roots, bark, wood, stem and in some areas the whole plant, leading to destructive harvesting. If not carefully monitored, this practice could lead to the depletion of genetic stocks and ultimately to the diversity of medicinal plants. It will also lead to the loss of biodiversity, deprivation of traditional knowledge and threatening of the survival of local communities.