But India will have to do far more, in order to fight the increasing bio-piracy of its indigenous wisdom and wealth. For one, basmati rice is just one of hundreds of bio-piracies. And it makes no sense disputing them all. CSIR successfully challenged a patent on haldis wound-healing properties last year, but the dispute over neem patents is yet to be settled. For another, contesting a patent in a US court is a very expensive proposition, with the cost running into lakhs of rupees. Whats worse, India has little idea about how much of its natural wealth has been burgled, nor has it erected any legal bulwarks to keep the thieves at bay.
Pharmaceuticals are among the most lucrative areas for the international bio-pirates: 25 per cent of US prescriptions are filled with drugs whose active ingredients are derived from plants. Sales of these plant-based drugs amounted to about $4.5 billion in 1980 and $15.5 in 1990. In Europe, Australia, Canada and the US, the market value for both prescription and over-the-counter drugs based on plants is estimated to be over $70 billion. Transnati-onal companies know where to find the plants: well over 50 per cent of the worlds estimated 250,000 plant species are in tropical rainforests. Only a small fraction of them have been investigated as a source of potential new drugs, and the rapid destruction of tropical forests has hastened corporations screening, appropriation and patenting processes.