False submissions by Indian botanists to international bodies: CITES & IUCN.


It is important to read 'Death Sentence on taxonomy in India' by K.D.Pathapan, Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan, T.C. Narendran, C.A.Viraktamath, N.A. Aravind and J.Poorani, published in 'Current Science' Vol. 94 No. 2 (January 2008), which exposes serious shortcomings.  I wonder why the environmental reporter for BBC World Service has not investigated the matters raised?  Perhaps it is because he out-of-his-depth without any relevant training or expertise - not that this usually stops journalists from pontificating, passing judgement and coming up with sensationalist statements.  Could the real explanation be that such reporters are too anxious to dare voice criticism of either the Indian or Nepalese Governments? 

This article begins by pronouncing, correctly, that India's 'Biological Diversity Act, 2002' seriously curtails the scientific freedom of individual Indian taxonomists by putting draconian regulations on the free exchange of specimens for taxonomic research and threatens to strangulate biodiversity research in India with legal as well as bureaucratic control.  It seems that rules & guidelines framed to implement this Act , which is flawed and based on wrong premises, reveal the appling ignorance on the part of the implementing agencies!  Guidelines accepted by the Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India and the National Biodiversity Authority for international collaboration in diversity research bear testament to this (And what collaboration one may reasonably ask, as since Independence, 70 years ago, repeated Indian governments have actively discouraged, indeed at times, downright prohibited such collaboration).  Do Indian botanists desperately need to collaborated internationally - absolutely, since too many still copy content of Hooker's 'Flora of British India' published in the 19th century for their reference works!   Yet such botanists prefer to sit in their offices and occasionally visit herbaria to consult pressed specimens collected and named by Britishers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, concluding that because no specimens have been collected since then by Indian botanists, such species must now be rare or even 'critically endangered'.  The mundane explanation, is that most Indian botanists seldom venture out of their offices into the field and when they do, it is sat in a vehicle; when the vehicle stops, they may go 100m or so from the road/track, often with assistants to actually collect the specimens for drying and pressing, resulting in scrappy ones and with virtually no accompanying field-notes.  Few ever search amongst boulders, on steep slopes, let alone cliffs, whilst treks properly up amongst the mountains are rare.  Thus, species which inhabit such places are considered 'rare & endangered', when they are no such thing.  Furthermore, few Indian botanists have, like Chris Chadwell, the field skills to recognise which species they come across in the wild, making it impossible for them to judge the abundance or rarity of colonies of each species, whilst Chris can.  Thus he, combined with reliable records from other Westerners who travel to the Himalaya, such as the Czech plant geographers, who have just published a 'Field Guide to the Flora of Ladakh' (Dvorksy et al, 2018).

Draft guidelines accepted by the National Biodiversity Authority stipulate that 'Exchange and transfer of dead specimens and/or herbariums (of no commercial value) on loan for taxonomic studies and return by boa fide scientists/professors of recognised universities and Government Institutions who are engaged inn pure classical taxonomic studies shall be done through the concerned department/Ministries of the Government of India,  Furthermore, a notification from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, states that in the case of collaborative research projects involving exchange and transfer of dead or preserved specimens, this also shall be done with the approval of concerned departments and ministries.  Such guidelines on implementation would achieve the ultimate bureaucratic control in the history of science in India.

Last year, a scientist who wished to visit Ladakh contacted me, observing that it is, "virtually impossible to obtain permission to undertake any sort of botanical research in India".

The authors rightly state that biological systematics is truly international in theory and practice.  Quality taxonomic research requires extensive collaboration and cooperation among specialists and institutions across continents, as type specimens (original reference specimens) of even closely related species may be held in museums in different continents.  For accurate generic and species determinations, it is essential to study specimens from across political boundaries and continents.  Unless and until the type specimens are studied, the identity of the taxa concerned remains questionable.  This is a major contributory factor to the ridiculous numbers of false claims amongst Indian scientists of species supposedly 'new-to-science', when in fact they are merely a variant of an existing, well-known species.  How can e.g. an inexperienced, non-taxonomist, on their first visit to the Rohtang Pass, Himachal Pradesh and slopes down into Lahaul (a route followed by large numbers of foreign botanists), close to the main path, find a blue-poppy they have the audacity to publish as Meconopsis bikramii, which of course, turns out to be a form of the common Meconopsis aculeata.   Publishing such 'new' species is an easy way to avoid years or decades undertaking proper studies.

It is generally accepted among the scientific community that the types are the property of science and should be made available to bona fide researchers throughout the world

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