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Q 47- Analyse India's preparation in the realms of biosafety and biosecurity by highlighting the biosecurity risks of synthetic biology. (250 words)

Paper & Topic: GS III à Science and Technology- developments and their

  applications and effects in everyday life; Achievements of Indians in science &  

  technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.

 

  • Model Answer:

 

  • Introduction:

 

  • Biosecurity is described as "institutional and personal security measures meant to prevent the loss, theft, misuse, diversion, or purposeful release of viruses and toxins," according to the World Health Organization. Biosecurity, according to the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization), is a "strategic and integrated approach" that encompasses policies and regulations that address food safety, animal and plant life, and their health, as well as associated environmental concerns. "
  • The containment concepts, technologies, and procedures that are employed to prevent unintentional exposure to diseases and poisons, or their accidental discharge," according to the WHO.

 

  • Body:

 

  • India's State of Preparedness:

 

  • In India, the ministries of health and family welfare, science and technology, and the environment ministry are the primary ministries dealing with biosecurity.
  • ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research), CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research), and DRDO (Department of Research and Development) are in charge of various areas of biosecurity in India (Defence Research and Development Organization).
  • In India, biosecurity is regarded as a health and agriculture issue, hence it is mostly handled by the states.
  • The central government offers rules that the states adapt to their specific needs.
  • A National Agricultural Biosecurity Program was recommended by the National Farmers Commission, led by M S Swaminathan, in 2004.
  • The Agricultural Biosecurity Bill, introduced in 2013, seeks to establish a 'Agricultural Biosecurity Authority,' a high-powered authority that would oversee four areas: animal health, plant health, marine creatures, and agriculturally vital bacteria.
  • This, however, is currently awaiting approval.
  • The customs agency regulates the import of exotic pests and weeds.
  • Plants were classified as restricted, forbidden, or prohibited in India under the Plant Quarantine Order of 2003.
  • The CITES classification is also used to limit the entry of new species.
  • In India, the ICMR oversees a number of bio-safety level (BSL) labs.
  • There are 30 BSL-3 and BSL-2+ labs that are currently operational.
  • There are two BSL-4 (highest safety level) labs, one in Pune (National Institute of Virology) and the other in Bhopal (National Institute of Virology) (National Institute of High-Security Animal Diseases).
  • India is a member to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), which was the first international convention to prohibit the use of an entire class of weapons in 1972.
  • The treaty has also been ratified. The convention employs 'confidence-building mechanisms,' such as inter-party meetings, UNSC complaints, victim aid, and so on.

 

  • Associated Concerns:

 

  • Biosecurity measures are not implemented uniformly in India because they are at the control of local states.
  • Given India's vulnerability to pest incursions, even detecting an act of agro-terrorism (bioterrorism directed at the agricultural sector) let alone establishing its source will be challenging.
  • Customs officials, who have been chastised for a lack of training in this area, will halt the import of potentially invasive pests and biological agents.
  • For example, identifying the seed of a potentially invasive species among incoming travellers' luggage.
  • Because the Destructive Insects and Pests Act of 1914 and the Livestock Importation Act of 1898 are just subsidiaries of the Customs Act of 1962, quarantine officers are effectively powerless.
  • One of the things the 2013 Biosecurity Bill aimed to change was this.
  • Since 2014, India's biosecurity bill has been awaiting approval.
  • Also, zoonoses (such as Coronaviruses) are not taken into account.
  • Unlike many other types of national security concerns, emerging biological agents like SARS CoV 2 are impossible to predict.
  • There is also a large time lapse between discovering a viable treatment/vaccine, making the situation much more perilous.
  • Biological agents, such as viruses, have a higher rate of mutations, as well as a latency period, which makes disease identification and control more difficult.

 

  • Such biological attacks (intentional, unintentional, or natural) put the country's defence forces in jeopardy in two ways:

 

  • The armed forces may be harmed and weakened by the biological agent, and their capacity to deal with conventional threats such as terrorist attacks and WMDs is diluted as resources are diverted for the domestic response, posing a security risk.
  • In light of the debate and accusations surrounding Wuhan Institute of Virology's role in the COVID-19 incident, the challenge of distinguishing between offensive (or aggressive) and defensive (or peaceful) goals of biological agents has emerged.
  • Even mismanagement of a biosecurity issue on a local level has the potential to spread and have an international impact.
  • This necessitates international cooperation marked by transparency, credibility, and prompt action.
  • The BTWC lacks a verification regime.
  • Any country with a sufficiently established pharmaceutical sector has the potential to build a biological WMD, making the formulation of a verification framework challenging.
  • The capacity to detect and resolve such non-compliances is influenced by the speed with which an international investigation team is formed (since fresh forensic evidence is critical) and the investigative team's access to the impacted area.
  • For example, examinations into the United States' accusation of the Soviet Union's use of mycotoxins in 1981 proved inconclusive.

 

  • Conclusion:

 

  • The COVID-19 dilemma has impacted not just India and other countries across the world, but also the country of origin.
  • It has been demonstrated that in the event of a biological war, every country would be a victim—there would be no winners.
  • The situation should serve as a stark reminder of the value of the universal biodeterrence doctrine.
  • For its part, India should improve its biosecurity system while also mobilising international collaboration to improve global biosecurity.
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