QUESTION : What is environmental ethics and its various issues involved in environmental ethics by giving the significance of bio-centric jurisprudence for nature ?
The Hindu Editorial Topic : EMPOWERING NATURE WITH BIOCENTRIC JURISPRUDENCE
Environmental Ethics and threat to GIB
WHY IN NEWS?
The Supreme Court in April 2021 ordered that all overhead power transmission lines in core and potential Great Indian Bustard habitats in Rajasthan and Gujarat should be undergrounded.
MORE DETAILS ABOUT THIS :
- The Court said, in M.K. Ranjitsingh & Others vs Union of India & Others, that in all cases where the overhead lines in power projects exist, governments of Rajasthan and Gujarat shall take steps forthwith to install bird diverters pending consideration of the conversion of overhead cables into underground power lines.
- The SC also formed a three-member committee, including a member of the bustard specialist group of IUCN, to help power companies comply with the order.
- In this ruling, the Supreme Court of India has sought to move away from an anthropocentric basis of law.
THREAT TO GIB :
- As per Wildlife Institute of India (WII), overhead power transmission lines are the biggest threat to the GIBs.
- Approximately, 18 GIBs die every year after colliding with overhead power lines as the birds, due to their poor frontal vision, can’t detect power lines in time and their weight make in-flight quick manoeuvres difficult.
o Coincidentally, Kutch and Thar desert are the places which have witnessed creation of huge renewable energy infrastructure over the past two decades, leading to installation of windmills and construction of power lines even in core GIB areas.
- Loss of natural habitat
- Wind turbines and solar farms
SIGNIFICANCE OF SC ORDER :
- In protecting the birds, the Court has affirmed and emphasised the bio-centric values of eco-preservation.
- The philosophy of biocentrism holds that the natural environment has its own set of rights which is independent of its ability to be exploited by or to be useful to humans.
- The ‘Snail darter’ case: The Supreme Court of the United States of America in Tennessee Valley Authority vs Hill, held that since a species “Snail darter” was a specifically protected species under the US National Environmental Policy Act, the US executive could not proceed with a controversial reservoir project.
BIOCENTRISM AND ANTHROCENTRISM :
- Anthropocentrism argues that of all the species on earth humans are the most significant and that all other resources on earth may be justifiably exploited for the benefit of human beings.
- Such line of thought find mention in Politics, a well-known work of Aristotle, as also the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant amongst many others.
NEED FOR BIOCENTRISM :
- Species in danger: The compilation prepared by the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists about 37,400 species that are gravely endangered; and the list is ever growing.
o About 50 years ago, there were 4,50,000 lions in Africa. Today, there are hardly 20,000.
o Indiscriminate monoculture farming in the forests of Borneo and Sumatra is leading to the extinction of orangutans.
o Rhinos are hunted for the so-called medicinal value of their horns and are slowly becoming extinct.
o From the time humans populated Madagascar about 2,000 years ago, about 15 to 20 species of Lemurs, which are primates, have become extinct.
INDIA AND BIOCENTRISM :
- Isa Upanishad elaborates on the ancient Indian roots of ecocentrism. It clearly says that all the living and non-living organisms in this universe belong to God alone.
- The Constitution of India declares that it is applicable to the territory of India. While making such a declaration, it very obviously refers to humans within that territory and its predominant aim was to give them rights, impose obligations and regulate human affairs.
o But, the Constitution is significantly silent on any explicitly stated, binding legal obligations we owe to our fellow species and to the environment that sustains us.
- The Indian judiciary earlier was inclined towards anthropocentrism. But gradually, it has shifted more towards ecocentrism. For example,
o T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad case, 2012: In this case, the court explained the ecocentric approach and elaborated on the necessary application of the same.
o Centre for Environment Law, WWFI v. Union of India case, 2013: The court threw light on the intrinsic value of all living beings, irrespective of the fact that they were instrumental for human survival or not.
CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS :
- Article 48 -A of the constitution says that “the state shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country”.
- SC has established enduring principles of sustainable development and read them into the precepts of Article 21 of the Constitution.
o Article 21 of the Indian Constitution states: ‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedures established by law.
o It is by this second method that the Supreme Court interpreted the right to life and personal liberty to include the right to a clean environment.
o Right to environment is also a right without which development of individual and realisation of his or her full potential shall not be possible.
- The Constitution of India declares that it is applicable to the territory of India. While making such a declaration, it very obviously refers to humans within that territory.
- The Constitution is significantly silent on any explicitly stated, binding legal obligations we owe to our fellow species and to the environment that sustains us.
SOME INTERNATIONAL EXAMPLES :
- Pieces of legislation are slowly evolving that fall in the category of the “Right of Nature laws”.
- In September 2008, Ecuador became the first country in the world to recognise “Rights of Nature” in its Constitution. Bolivia has also joined the movement by establishing Rights of Nature laws too.
- These laws empower people in a community to “step into the shoes” of a mountain, stream or forest ecosystem and advocate for the right of those local communities”.
ABOUT GIB :
- GIBs are the largest among the four bustard species found in India.
o The other three being MacQueen’s bustard, lesser florican and the Bengal florican.
- GIBs’ historic range included much of the Indian sub-continent but it has now shrunken to just 10% of it.
- The Great Indian Bustard (GIB) is the State bird of Rajasthan.
- Habitats: Among the heaviest birds with flight, GIBs prefer grasslands as their habitats.
o Being terrestrial birds, they spend most of their time on the ground with occasional flights to go from one part of their habitat to the other.
o They feed on insects, lizards, grass seeds etc.
o GIBs are considered the flagship bird species of grassland and hence barometers of the health of grassland ecosystems.
- On verge of Extinction
o In February 2020, the Central government had told the 13th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) held in Gandhinagar, that the GIB population in India had fallen to just 150.
- Of them 128 birds were in Rajasthan, 10 in Kutch district of Gujarat and a few in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
- Pakistan is also believed to host a few GIBs.
o Due to the species’ smaller population size, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has categorised GIBs as critically endangered, thus on the brink of extinction from the wild.
o Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES): Appendix1
o Convention on Migratory Species (CMS): Appendix I
o Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972: Schedule 1
GOVERNMENT’S INITIATIVES :
o It is kept under the species recovery programme under the Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
o The MoEFCC has also launched a program called ‘Habitat Improvement and Conservation Breeding of Great Indian Bustard-An Integrated Approach’.
- The objective of the programme is to build up a captive population of Great Indian Bustards and to release the chicks in the wild for increasing the population.
o Rajasthan government has launched ‘Project Great Indian Bustard’ with an aim of constructing breeding enclosures for the species and developing infrastructure to reduce human pressure on its habitats
WAY FORWARD :
- Setting up the conservation breeding centres as per the 2017 plan.
- Necessary support for setting up of breeding centres should be extended in expeditious way including land allotment and deploying a scientist to facilitate breeding training.
- While the breeding centres take time, incubation units, which take only few weeks, should be set up in the GIB arc.
- Radio tags to control poaching and hunting of the bird
- Installations of bird diverters every five metres to prevent the loss of life.
- Relocation of windmills
- Laying of power lines underground
In times like this the Supreme Court’s judgment in M.K. Ranjith singh upholding the biocentric principles of coexistence is a shot in the arm for nature conservation. One does hope that the respective governments implement the judgment of the Court.