Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Emerging Conflicts between Biodiversity Conservation Laws and Scientific Research: the Case of the Czech Entomologists in India


The arrests and subsequent conviction of two Czech entomologists by an Indian court in September 2008 has opened a Pandora’s box of controversy. Petr ˇSv´acha, of the Institute of Entomology at the Biology Centre of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, and his associate Emil Kuˇcera (an amateur entomologist) were arrested for collection of beetles and butterflies without a valid permit from the Singalila National Park in the Indian state of West Bengal, a violation of the 1972 Indian Wildlife Protection Act and the 2002 Biological Diversity Act. The arrests triggered debate in the global scientific community regarding the implications of biodiversity conservation laws for scientific research (Venkataraman 2008) and underscored the tensions in the three-way relationship between scientific collecting, species conservation, and efforts of nations to protect themselves from biopiracy.

Roughly 1200 scientists from across the world have protested the arrest and have petitioned the government of India for the scientists’ immediate release (Dubey 2008). In determining whether the arrest and conviction of the Czech entomologists erected unreasonable barriers to the access of biological resources for legitimate scientific research two pertinent questions need to be addressed: Were the Indian officials overzealous in arresting the two researchers? And is the scientific community justified in its criticism of conservation laws now that two of its own have broken them?

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