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Need of Legal Rights to Animals, Trees, and Rivers

Published: 13th Oct, 2022


The report for the Law Society explores the scope of recalibrating the relationship between humans and mother earth in the future.


About the Report:

  • The report is titled as “Law in the Emerging Bio-Age” by the Law Society (an independent professional body for solicitors in England and Wales).
  • The subsequent report concluded that the evolution of this relationship demands new regulations, including rights for non-humans.

Key Questions raised in the report:

  • Role of legal structure in improving human relations with living systems and our planet.
  • Role of law in supporting the evolution of ethics in the capacity to manipulate living systems.
  • Outcomes of granting rights to non-human life forms.
  • Articulating legal frameworks to make them fit for the future.
  • Legal Practitioner for the bio age.

Why it is necessary to grant nature rights?

  • Need to protect nature — animals, plants, rivers, and beyond — because their existence is more than sustaining human lives. It is the holistic recognition that all life and all ecosystems on our planet are deeply intertwined.
  • Nature has an intrinsic right to exist free of harm, regardless of the value, it provides humans.
  • Impact of anthropogenic activities: Impacts from human activity on land and in the water, is influencing nature.
    • Climate change, ocean acidification, permafrost melting, habitat loss, eutrophication, stormwater runoff, air pollution, and contaminants are a few examples calling for attention.
  • Impact of climate change: Warmer temperatures over time are changing weather patterns and disrupting the usual balance of nature. They are affecting non-human entities and their right as well.

Few Exemplary Regulations:

  • Ecuador was the first to recognize the rights of nature. Article 71 begins: “Nature, where life is reproduced and occurs, has the right to integral respect for its existence.
  • Bolivia adopted a biocentric/biocentric approach through the Law on the Rights of Mother Earth (2010); the enumerated rights are the rights to life, diversity of life, water, clean air, equilibrium, restoration, and pollution-free living.
  • There is also a campaign to make ecocide a prosecutable offense at the international criminal court (ICJ), Hague.

Need to give non-human entities rights:

  • To tackle climate breakdown and biodiversity loss, countries need to provide the ‘rights’ to the neglected elements of nature.
  • Something very different has to be done to leave this planet more survivable to future generations.
  • It means granting legal rights and protections to non-human entities such as animals, trees, and rivers is essential.
  • Human makes up a fraction of this global ecosystem, and an evolving legal framework suited for the future requires assigning rights to non-human entities.

Existence of Nonhuman Rights:

  • Rights of Nature: The concept of nature is not currently understood to include individual animals. But the provisions recognizing the rights of nature still implicitly acknowledge that a nonhuman can have rights.
    • It is also important to understand that, theoretically, the rights of nature may be violated even in the absence of any injury to humans.
  • Judicial Recognition: Rivers have been treated as legal persons in some jurisdictions, notably in Bangladesh, Colombia, Ecuador, India, New Zealand, and the United States.
    • A landmark judgment of the Uttarakhand High Court (UHC), has extended the legal personhood to the Ganga, the Yamuna, their tributaries, and all other natural objects.
    • In another case, the High court of Punjab and Haryana recognized all animals in the animal kingdom, including avian and aquatic species, as legal entities.
    • Banning Jallikattu Practice: The Supreme Court order of 2014 bans jallikattu, because traditional sports involved the taming or overpowering of bulls.

Constitutional Provisions:

  • Article 51-A of the Constitution of India states that it is the fundamental duty of all citizens to have compassion for living creatures.
  • Article 48-A of the constitution of India requires the State to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.
  • At local and village level, Panchayats have been empowered under the constitution to take measures such as soil conservation, water management, forestry and protection of the environment and promotion of ecological aspect.

New Legal Framework:

  • Inclusive Framework: We need a framework that is more ecocentric than anthropocentric.
  • Ethical questions:
    • Ethics of bringing back species from extinction or eradicating existing ones.
    • Wiping out mosquitoes, which carry malaria and other diseases.
    • Calves are taken away from their mothers and even pets,

Way Forward

  • Neo-Pantheism: It is like enshrining, the idea of pantheism into 21st-century legal frameworks. It amounts to essentially granting personhood rights to non-human entities.
  • Beyond Numinous Rights: The rights given to non-human entities must not be seen from the limits of culture and religious beliefs.0
  • Repositioning Laws: It is a moral duty and legal obligation of the state to protect the rights of animals and change animals’ legal status based on changing morality and existing legal principles.

Verifying, please be patient.

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