The Hindustan Times New Delhi: Dec 15, 2006

GUWAHATI, Dec 15 -- Bio-piracy of a number of high-value bio-resources, comprising mostly medicinal plants and animals, has emerged as a major threat to the rich biodiversity of the State as well as the North-east. Regrettably, the issue has failed to draw public attention because of lack of awareness among the people as to the pattern and consequences of bio-piracy going on in the State.

The first-ever State of Environment Report, Assam-2004 released yesterday has recorded 22 plants besides orchids, which are in the list of bio-resources affected by bio-piracy. "Many of the plant species are being collected every year from the region although no data is available on the quantity of collection. Generally plants are collected by forest- dwellers and some of them are semi-processed and handed over to the agents of companies situated outside the region," the report notes.

Locals involved in the business, however, get a very small amount in return, whereas the companies are illegally earning a lot of money at the cost of the valuable genetic resources. The basic factors fuelling the demand for bio-piracy are the medicinal, aromatic and other uses of the plants. "The whole plant or parts are collected for medicinal and perfumery use," the report says. The stem and barks of Actinodaphne angustifloia Nees are collected for medicinal use, while the infected wood of A. malacensis Lann is used for manufacturing essential oil. The stem and roots of Aristolichia cathcartii HK f. ext and Asparagus recemosus Willd are collected for medicinal uses. The stem and barks of Beilschmiedia brandissi HK. F are widely used as a bonding agent for agarbatti. The entire plant of Coptis teeta Wall has medicinal attributes. The seeds of Euryale ferox Salsib are used for medicinal purposes as well as for food. While the fruits of Illicium grifithii HK. F are used as spice and condiments, the flowers and seeds of Mesua ferrea L. have their use as medicinal and aromatic oil. The roots of Pothos scandes L are used for medicinal purposes. The entire plant of orchid species is generally pirated for ornamental uses.

The report, prepared by the Assam Science Technology and Environment Council (ASTEC) with support from the Environment Protection Training and Research Institute, Hyderabad, uses the latest pressure-state-impact-response (PSIR) methodology, the internationally recognized method for describing the state of environment. The report incorporates almost all the aspects of environment in 15 chapters. The various parameters covered in the report are administrative and ecological set-up, physical base, demography, resources like land, water, forest, minerals, etc., disaster management, biodiversity, agriculture and allied sectors, energy, industries, transport, tourism and heritage, health, urban development and institutional framework.

The objective of the report is to sensitize the people, the government and its various agencies and other stakeholders to the pressures and threats the various elements of the environment are subjected to, and to provide the basis for making informed decisions on what needs to be done to improve the environment through a properly-planned development process resulting in an environmentally clean and sound.