Thursday, November 20, 2008

Constitutional Right to Nature

Check this out. Equador is perhaps the first country in the world to extend a constitutional right to all of nature. The history of the movement leading up to this can be read in this Guardian article. As this editorial says, the implications of this move are likely to be watched closely. A flippant critique of this move can be read here.

4 comments:

Suresh said...

Why is the Weekly Standard critique "flippant"? You may choose not to agree with it but that's a different story.

If we take this seriously, then what is the position on the HIV virus? Should we give up attempts to find a vaccine against the virus? How about the smallpox virus kept securely in a lab somewhere? Should it be released into the "wild"? What happens when animal/plants are moved from one place to another accidentally (like the Parthenium weed ubiquitous all over India) or deliberately? What are the rights of such "immigrants"?

Yes, I guess you can say I am flippant. But the flippancy is to make a point. What is going on here is an attempt by a set of individuals with a particular view of how people should lead their lives to impose their views via a "constitutional right to nature." Instead of saying directly - "look, this is how we want people to lead their lives" - they are adopting an indirect route via a "constitutional right to nature."

Of course, if the Ecuadoreans want to go along with this vision, then that's their right. I have a feeling, though, that many of them don't understand what this entails and will in time, come to regret it (if they do go ahead and give a constitutional right to all of nature). If I had to take a guess, I think those who say they are in favour say so because of what is called a "worm glow" effect - that is, it makes one feel "nice."

On a different note, we in India already have communities that subscribes to similar doctrines - the Jains and the Bishnois, for example. Even the US has communities like the Amish or the Mennonites (some, not all) who are more "in tune with nature." But, in India or the US, these faiths have always been that of a minority.

Dilip said...

Suresh,

I called it flippant because it is quite improbable that these rights will be interpreted in such a manner as to preclude the cleaning of ponds or the making of vaccines. More likely the courts (or legislative enactments) will lay down a test(s) of some kind to decide which forms of human intervention are permissible. The moot point is whether such a test or tests will prove workable.

Suresh said...

Dilip,

I called it flippant because it is quite improbable that these rights will be interpreted in such a manner as to preclude the cleaning of ponds or the making of vaccines.

Perhaps. On the other hand, I am reminded of P.G. Wodehouse's Psmith who frequently reminded his hapless adversaries to "never confuse the unusual with the impossible."

Okay, my last say. Suppose you have a case where an company wants to cut down a forest to pursue some project. Under the current dispensation, opponents will have to pursue their objections through the political system. With this constitutional amendment, matters will presumably go through the court system with the Supreme Court having the final say on whether the project violates the "constitutional right of nature" or not. Since almost any project - including subsistence agriculture - is potentially liable to this charge, all this amendment is going to do is to shift the onus of decision-making from the executive/legislature to the judiciary.

Will this shift result in better overall decision-making? May be, may be not. There's really no way of knowing. (Note that our Supreme Court also validated the Narmada project, for instance.) I personally prefer such decisions be made via the executive and the legislature. I don't think that is going to result in "faultless" decision-making - that is an impossibility anyway - but I do think that the proper place for dealing with such conflicts is the legislature or the executive and not the judiciary.

Unless there is convincing evidence, I will retain my opinion that the current Ecuadoran support for this constitutional amendment is little more than a "warm glow" effect.

How do we know said...

This is funny. Partly because Indic religions instinctively believe in equality of all life, and yet, Ecuador is the first country to legislate this.

Call me a misanthrope, but i like this legislation.