A National Law for Urban Trees

Ritwick Dutta writes that trees become the first victims of infrastructure expansion in urban areas. Laws and institutions for the protection of trees have not kept pace with the increasing developmental pressures. A fundamental reform in the law is needed, so that it is able to comprehensively protect trees in an urban landscape.

 

In 1974, Christopher Stone in his essay “Should Trees Have Standing?” argued the need to recognise the legal rights of nature in general and of trees in particular. After more than four decades, legal rights of nature are being recognised in some jurisdictions. Rivers were recognised as legal entities by the courts in India and through legislation in New Zealand (that is, through the Te Awa Tupua [Whanganui River Claims Settlement] Bill 2017). In 2014, the Supreme Court of India recognised that even “animals have dignity, honour and their rights to privacy must be protected from unlawful assault” (Animal Welfare Board v A Nagaraja 2014). Ecuador became the first country in the world to constitutionally recognise the rights of nature by stating in its Constitution that “nature has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital life cycles, structures and its processes in evolution.” The recognition of “rights of nature” is particularly relevant in view of the increasing threats to nature across the world, including India. The last few years have seen increasing assault on nature across India, and trees in particular have been the victims of India’s obsession with increasing its physical infrastructure. Even legally protected areas such as national parks and sanctuaries have been direct victims of this massive increase in infrastructure.

Read the full article in Economic & Political Weekly

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