By Abdul Ghaffar Butt.
The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat all comes from nature. It plays an important role in balancing our life. Nature regulates the environment but from the past many years it is in danger owing to human’s negative activities against nature such as in terms of CFC gases, deforestation and every kind of pollution. These activities cause disruption in nature’s work and process. So, to protect the nature from harms given by humans, a movement was begun in 1972 by Christopher D Stone, an American legal jurist. He argued about rights of nature in his article namely Should Trees have Standing towards Legal Rights for Natural Objects. In this article, he states that nature should have legal standing like other juridical entities such as partnership, trusts and corporations. Moreover, he contrasts and compares the changes that have occurred in the past legal history by giving certain examples such as in the past slaves, blacks, fetuses, women and even children did not have legal standing. Even, father had the power to infanticide the child and the child was considered as an object, a thing. Furthermore, Ships still referred to by courts in the feminine gender and have long had an independent juristic life. In short, he has stated about a movement which is away from the rights of man to nature, towards the rights of nature against man and his phenomenon was also admitted by U.S Supreme Court Justice William Douglas in his famous Sierra Club vs Martan case in 1972 by giving dissent in a judgment He adjudicated:
“Public concern for protecting nature’s ecological equilibrium should lead to the conferral of standing upon environmental objects to sue for their own preservation”
Rights of Nature against Man
Man lives in an age where he continues to ruin the environment at a horrifying rate, although he understands to some extent the disastrous impact of his actions on both the environment and on himself. This is the need of an hour for scholars to invent and propose alternative policies, institutional structures, and procedures that may aid man in reversing his dangerous course. A prime example of this type of undertaking is the proposal of Professor Stone’s article in which he briefly states that natural objects such as rivers, lakes, glaciers and trees be given certain legal rights. Fully aware of the fact that natural objects, if given legal rights, could not “voice” such rights, he suggests that when a natural object is being endangered, courts should, after proper procedure, appoint a guardian for the natural object. The crux of the argument is that nature should be given the right of Personhood like other juridical entities so, it can defend itself from the intrusion of modern civilization which is standing on the cruel edifice of nature against policies. This is the mean time to take stand against the cruel policies of industrialization which comes into the shape of modernization. We can safe nature only through legalization process and it is the most viable way and means.
Can Rivers and Trees be Granted Legal Rights?
This is not the first time that nature has found itself attributing by law. In 2008, Ecuador became the first nation in the world to grant constitutional rights to nature. Article 71 of its constitution describe that nature has” “the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles”. Furthermore, it goes on to state that “every person, people, community or nationality” shall be able to demand the recognition of this right before public bodies. Following are the contents of Article 71 of Ecuadorian Constitution which is inscribed in the 7th chapter of its Constitution
“Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution. Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognitions of rights for nature before the public organisms. The application and interpretation of these rights will follow the related principles established in the constitution. The state will motivate natural and juridical persons as well as collectives to protect nature; it will promote respect towards all the elements that form an ecosystem”.
In this matter a suit was filed and won by Americans in Ecuador (in the name of the Vilcabamba River) and the other, file on behalf of nature in San Lorenzo and Eloy Alfaro districts in 2011, was brought by the state, which sued to stop illegal small-scale mining operations in the area.
Likewise, after the struggle of a 100-year campaign by the WhanganuiIwi, a local community in New Zealand, parliament in New Zealand lately conferred a same status to the Whanganui River, making it the legal equivalent of a person, now the members of the community being empowered to press a legal action in its name, just like a parent is able to file a suit from the behalf of their child.
Similarly India, one of our neighboring countries, gave a judgment on the same basis in March 30, 2011. The High court of the of the Indian State Uttarakhand stated:
“We, by invoking our Parens patriae jurisdiction, declare glaciers including Gangotri and Yamunotri, rivers, streams, rivulets, lakes, air, meadows, dales, jungles, forests wetlands, grasslands, springs and waterfalls, legal entity/ legal person/juristic person/juridical person/ moral person/artificial person having the status of a legal person, with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person, in order to preserve and conserve them. They are also accorded the rights akin to fundamental rights/ legal rights.”
Situation in Pakistan:
In Pakistan the situation is otherwise. No such constitutional developments have occurred in this regard except Environmental Protection Act 1997. Moreover, Environmental Protection Agency whose function is to materialize the Act in true sense has failed to achieve it. On the other side Pakistan is among the top six countries in the world that will be most affected. If immediate action could not be taken within appropriate time the entire nation may have to face serious ramification in terms of flooding such as Pakistan had already experienced this natural disaster back in 2010 and 2011 due to climate change. Climate change not only brings natural disasters in the country but it also affects our economy in terms of lower productivity of goods and edible crops.
Hitherto, environmental law has been human centric and stuck to the very idea that human beings need a clean and sustainable environment. But this new approach is radically different one built on an opposing theory that nature is equally entitled to exist free from the interference of mankind. The polemics asked the practicality of this novel approach for them. We have the model of New Zealand and Ecuador and that is; from the behalf of nature, anyone can file a suit. In my opinion, from the last many years, immense changes have occurred from inappropriateness to legal rights in legal history. As it is known to all, in medieval era even women and children did not have legal rights but with the passage of time things have changed dramatically and the rights were devolved to the lower strata of life. From Magna Carta to Bills of Rights and abolishment of slavery was a milestone in history. Now demand of rights for nature is not a big issue as quoted above. Many countries have already given such constitutional rights to nature. So to solve the issue we have to legislate in this subject matter not for nature only but also for our coming generations because Nature is Life……..
Abdul Ghaffar Butt is affiliated with Punjab University Law College and he can be reached at Abghaffar959@gmail.com