Taking stock of the worsening climate crisis, India’s President Draupadi Murmu issued an urgent call for action for the people of the nation to treat “the entire living world and its habitat” respectfully. Presenting an argument to broaden the horizon of “rights” based on a Uttarakhand High Court decision recognizing Ganga and Yamuna as living entities enjoying the rights of a juristic person, a decision which was stayed by the Supreme Court by a subsequent order, President Murmu said, “Why stop at just two rivers? India is a land of sacred geography, with innumerable sacred lakes, rivers and mountains. To these landscapes, flora and wildlife add a rich biodiversity.In ancient times, our sages and seers saw them all as part of a universal whole, with us.Thus, just as the concept of human rights urges us to consider every being human being no different from us, we must treat all of the living world and its habitat with respect.
President Murmu was invited to speak at the Human Rights Day celebrations organized by the National Human Rights Commission as a chief guest. Also present were the chairman of the commission and retired Supreme Court justice, Arun Mishra, and the United Nations resident coordinator for India, Shombi Sharp, who read a message from António Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations.
The president wondered, “What would the animals and trees around us tell us if they could talk? What would our rivers say about human history and what would our beasts say about human rights? Lamenting the unconscionable march of human civilization, she said, “We have trampled on their rights for a long time, and now the results are before us.” Therefore, she insisted, we must learn, or rather relearn, to treat nature with dignity. “It is not only a moral duty but it is also necessary for our own survival,” she added.
In the same vein, Justice Mishra also referred to the fundamental duty of every citizen to respect nature, fauna and flora, biodiversity, environment and ecology. The retired judge said: “It is well reflected in our culture and our philosophy. We also find the principle of the Sustainable Development Goals deeply rooted in Vedic culture. For example, the Prithvi Sukta of Atharva Veda contains principles of sustainable development that we must respect Mother Earth, her soil, her sand, her rocks, her plants, her vegetation, etc.” Emphasizing the need for cosmic balance and harmony with the pancha bhootaor the five great elements, namely earth, water, fire, air and space or ether, Justice Mishra explained: “Our scriptures indicate that they must be preserved and protected. have the primitive concept of the protection of tapovan, abhyaraya (wildlife sanctuary), spider (forest), shreevan (beautiful forest), and vanshree (forest that provides livelihood).”
On behalf of the UN Secretary-General, Sharp delivered a bleak prognosis on the new human rights challenges emerging from “the triple global crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution”. Member States of the international organization, civil society and the private sector as well as other key actors were called upon to “put human rights at the heart of efforts to reverse today’s harmful trends “. After reading the Secretary-General’s message, Sharp also reminded the gathering of India’s growing role in international politics, particularly with regard to the concerted global effort to combat climate change. The UN official said: “As the largest democracy in the world…now, as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, as President of the Security Council, as President of the G-20, which will coincide with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the General Assembly’s mid-term review summit next year, the global community is increasingly looking to the leadership of the India to promote the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and sustainable development for all, leaving no one behind. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam!”
The most recent warning came from the World Bank in its latest report, in which it predicted that India could soon face heat waves exceeding the human survival limit. The trend of higher temperatures arriving earlier and staying longer indicates the inevitability of a punitive environmental condition that would cripple economic productivity. Around the world, climate scientists are committing acts of civil disobedience and organizing large-scale protests to demand stronger climate action. Acts of eco-vandalism are also on the rise, with climate activists led by groups such as Just Stop Oil vowing to defy the law until the government pledges to stop licensing and production of fossil fuels.
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