1.A house for a family and 1,000 dusky leaf-nosed bats
They have been living together at Lawspet without disturbing each other for 21 years
At a time when bats are being looked upon with suspicion and vilified as carriers of coronavirus, a family in Puducherry has been co-existing with over 1,000 dusky leaf-nosed bat (Hipposideros ater) in its house for the past two decades.
Most of the family members have grown up watching the nocturnal mammals in their two-storey house at Lawspet in the past 21 years, and they coexist without disturbing each other.
Prabhu A. Ponmudi, a businessman-cum- environmentalist, started constructing his house in 2000. A few bats started to roost while construction was under way. By the time the building was completed, an entire colony of bats had settled.
“We built a swimming pool on the first storey of the house and left space on all the sides of the pool to prevent water seepage into the house. The bats started to occupy the space on the unplastered walls, and we didn’t disturb them,” said Mr. Ponmudi, who opens a glass door to show the bat colony occupying the walls.
The L-shaped space separating the swimming pool from the rooms on its sides are occupied by the bats, and there are multiple hives of rock bees too. “We have learnt to coexist and haven’t faced any issue so far,” said Mr. Ponmudi.
“When children in the house open the glass door adjoining the swimming pool, the winged mammals fly inside the rooms. We switch off the ceiling fans for two hours and the bats use a range of ultrasonic sounds to detect obstacles and navigate through vents connecting the swimming pool. The mammals swoop down to drink from a pond in front of the house at 6.30 p.m. and exit. They again enter the roost at dawn through these vents,” he said.
According to S. Vimalraj, a naturalist, “There are so many misconceptions about bats. This species is an insectivorous bat and helps to eliminate insects, including moths. Bats are important nocturnal pollinators and seed dispersers. They pollinate flowers of mangroves and are pest controllers for farmers.”
“The dusky leaf-nosed bats eat thousands of insects, including mosquitoes, every night and help in keeping diseases at bay. Bats, like other wild animals, are natural carriers of viruses. However, they should not be vilified with new diseases,” he said.
Destruction of their fragile habitats and contact with their body fluids and consumption of bush meat would put humans at risk of encountering new viruses, Mr. Vimalraj said.
K. Raman, founder of Indigenous Biodiversity Foundation (IBF), a non-profit organisation, said bats normally roost in abandoned buildings, disused wells and palm trees. “Tiled roof houses built in the Tamil style had separate vents for natural lighting. These vents were used by bats for roosting. Their numbers are decreasing owing to the destruction of their habitats and hunting,” he said.
The IBF has started making artificial houses for insectivorous bats. A single box can support a colony and the idea is to increase awareness through conservation and education, Mr. Raman said.
2.The Ganga’s message
India must take its laws on waste seriously to stop microplastics pollution
The Ganga might have stood witness to many stages of India’s civilisation, as Mahatma Gandhi once noted, but in recent decades it has become a conduit for sewage, solid waste, industrial effluents and other pollutants. It is depressing, though not surprising, therefore, that a new study by an NGO has found evidence of a modern-day scourge, microplastics, in the river, with the highest concentrations in Varanasi and Kanpur, followed by Haridwar. What the data show is the alarming presence of plastic filaments, fibres, fragments, and in two places, microbeads, with their composition pointing to both industrial and secondary broken-down plastics from articles of everyday use. These range from tyres, clothing, food packaging, bags, cosmetics with microbeads, garland covers and other municipal waste. The finding of significant levels of microscopic particles invisible to the naked eye at below 300 micrometres to 5 millimetres in the country’s holiest river calls into question the progress of two high-priority, well-funded missions of the NDA government, Swachh Bharat, to deal with solid waste, and Namami Gange, to rid the river of its pollution. Surprisingly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s support for the river clean-up, originally scheduled to be implemented by December 2020, has not saved it from serious deficits; official data indicate that 97 Ganga towns may be discharging about 750 million litres of untreated sewage a day into the river. An environmental activist, Guru Das Agrawal, died in 2018 after fasting in protest, and his letter to Mr. Modi did not change the situation.
Microplastics, recorded in recent times in the remotest of places — Mount Everest, Arctic snow, Icelandic glaciers, the French Pyrenees, and the depths of the Mariana Trench, among others — pose a hazard as plastics production outpaces the ability of governments to collect and manage waste. Successive governments issued waste management rules, but dropped the ball on implementation. Although the Centre recently issued a draft to tighten the Plastic Waste Management Rules, cities have failed to implement existing rules as well as the Solid Waste Management rules, on ending single-use plastics, waste segregation, recycling labels on packaging, extended producer responsibility for manufacturers and recovery of materials. Moreover, growing plastic waste will far exceed the capacity of governments to manage it, given that recycling has its limits. Swachh Bharat, therefore, must mean not merely keeping waste out of sight, achieved through costly dumping contracts, but sharply reduced generation, full segregation and recycling. Plastic waste around the world is threatening the food web and the crisis demands a new global treaty modelled on the Montreal Protocol and the Paris Agreement. India needs to demonstrate that it is serious about a clean-up at home.
3.Empowering nature with biocentric jurisprudence
In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court of India has sought to move away from an anthropocentric basis of law
The Great Indian Bustard, a gravely endangered species, with hardly about 200 alive in India today, came under the protective wings of the Supreme Court of India in a recent judgment. The Court said, in M.K. Ranjitsinh & Others vs Union of India & Others, that in all cases where the overhead lines in power projects exist, the 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 overhead power lines have become a threat to the life of these species as these birds frequently tend to collide with these power lines and get killed. The Ministry of Power, in an affidavit dated March 15, 2021, has said: “The Great Indian Bustard (“GIB”) lacks frontal vision. Due to this, they cannot detect powerlines ahead of them, from far. As they are heavy birds, they are unable to manoeuvre across power lines within close distances. Thus, they are vulnerable to collision with power lines.”
In protecting the birds, the Court has affirmed and emphasised the biocentric 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.
Biocentrism often comes into conflict with its contrarian philosophy, namely anthropocentrism. 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. Expressions of such line of thought date back many centuries and find mention in Politics, a well-known work of Aristotle, as also the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant amongst many others.
The ‘Snail darter’ case
A noteworthy instance of the application of anthropocentrism in the legal world is in that of the “Snail darter” case in the United States. In 1973, a University of Tennessee biologist David Etnier, discovered a species of fish called the “Snail darter” in the Little Tennessee river. Etnier contended that the snail darter was an endangered species and that its existence would be gravely threatened by the continuation of development works relating to the Tellico Reservoir project. Following this revelation, a lawsuit came to be filed challenging the continuation of the Tellico Reservoir project. The challenge travelled all the way to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of the United States of America in Tennessee Valley Authority vs Hill, held that since the “Snail darter” was a specifically protected species under the National Environmental Policy Act, the executive could not proceed with the reservoir project. However, after the Supreme Court delivered its verdict, Congress enacted a law excluding retrospectively the snail darter from statutory protection. The project progressed and the fish suffered.
Species in danger
Humans share the world with countless other species, many of which are nearing extinction on account of man’s imprudent insensitivity. About 50 years ago, there were 4,50,000 lions in Africa. Today, there are hardly 20,000. Indiscriminate monoculture farming in the forests of Borneo and Sumatra is leading to the extinction of orangutans. Rhinos are hunted for the so-called medicinal value of their horns and are slowly becoming extinct. From the time humans populated Madagascar about 2,000 years ago, about 15 to 20 species of Lemurs, which are primates, have become extinct. 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.
Some green shoots
Some aspects of constitutional law on ecoconservations are significant. 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 to regulate human affairs. 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. It is to the credit of the judiciary that out of these still and placid waters, it has fished out enduring principles of sustainable development and read them, inter alia, into the precepts of Article 21 of the Constitution.
Amid such a gloomy landscape, one is heartened to observe some green shoots emerging.
Pieces of legislations are slowly evolving that fall in the category of the “Right of Nature laws”. These seek to travel away from an anthropocentric basis of law to a biocentric one. 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. In November 2010, the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania became the first major municipality in the United States to recognise the Rights of Nature. As a first step, 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”. These laws, like the Constitution of the countries that they are part of, are still works in progress.
In times like this the Supreme Court’s judgment in M.K. Ranjithsinh 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 and that the fate of the Great Indian Bustard does not go the way of the Snail Darter.
Rights of Nature is the recognition and honoring that Nature has rights. It is the recognition that our ecosystems – including trees, oceans, animals, mountains – have rights just as human beings have rights. Rights of Nature is about balancing what is good for human beings against what is good for other species, what is good for the planet as a world. It is the holistic recognition that all life, all ecosystems on our planet are deeply intertwined.
Rather than treating nature as property under the law, rights of nature acknowledges that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles.
And we – the people – have the legal authority and responsibility to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems. The ecosystem itself can be named as the injured party, with its own legal standing rights, in cases alleging rights violations.
For indigenous cultures around the world recognizing rights of nature is simply what is so and consistent with their traditions of living in harmony with nature. All life, including human life, are deeply connected. Decisions and values are based on what is good for the whole.
Nonetheless, for millennia legal systems around the world have treated land and nature as “property”. Laws and contracts are written to protect the property rights of individuals, corporations and other legal entities. As such environmental protection laws actually legalize environmental harm by regulating how much pollution or destruction of nature can occur within the law. Under such law, nature and all of its non-human elements have no standing.
By recognizing rights of nature in its constitution, Ecuador – and a growing number of communities in the United States – are basing their environmental protection systems on the premise that nature has inalienable rights, just as humans do. This premise is a radical but natural departure from the assumption that nature is property under the law.
4.Pandemic-hit Tokyo Olympics off to a muted, subdued start
Opening ceremony features athletes training on a treadmill in the dark, depicting how they prepared; Osaka lights cauldron; Emperor declares Games open
“It’s finally happening! We did not know until last week if this would be possible,” beams a volunteer as the five gigantic wooden Olympic rings make their way into a near-empty Olympic Stadium on Friday.
The volunteer is ecstatic to see the Games, postponed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, get underway, while hundreds of locals gather outside the stadium to protest the holding of the Games.
Such is the contrast, such are the two parallels in Japan — where some see the Games as an opportunity to show the world that Japan can host the Games even in such testing conditions, others protest the very decision. In fact, such is their antipathy to the Games that a 53-year-old woman named Kayoko Takahashi tried to douse the Olympic torch last week.
She reportedly screamed “No Olympics. Stop the Games,” and tried to squirt water with a watergun during the torch relay before being arrested. Back at the Olympic Stadium, the opening ceremony was a rather subdued and muted affair as the stands sat empty.
The 205 contingents walked out gleefully, waved their flags with gusto, to be greeted by the officials, journalists and volunteers.
In keeping with the times we live in, the ceremony featured a segment with a performer running on a treadmill and surrounded by darkness — depicting how athletes had to train in isolation during the pandemic.
The opening ceremony also had a strong Manga (Japanese comics and graphic novels) flavour as all the text on the placards was inspired by the speech bubbles featured in comics.
Nineteen Indian athletes took part in the ceremony and were marshalled by 2012 London Olympics bronze-medallist Mary Kom and the Indian men’s hockey team captain Manpreet Singh.
A 114-member Indian contingent had marched at the 2016 opening ceremony, which was held in front of a capacity crowd of 78,000 people at Rio’s Maracana stadium, while 81 Indians marched on at the 2012 Games. But such is the world we are now in — masks and social distancing are the need of the hour and the razzmatazz of an opening ceremony at Tokyo’s $1.45 billion stadium is curtailed by the sight of thousands of empty seats.
Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka lit the cauldron. She lifted the Olympic torch to the gleaming cauldron, which had unfurled at the top of a ramp representing Mount Fuji.
Japan’s Emperor Naruhito officially opened the Games. “I declare open the Games of Tokyo,” said the monarch.
Origin of IOC
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is a non-governmental international organisation which came into existence in 1894.
Objectives of IOC
The IOC has the aim of ensuring the regular holding of the Olympic Games and fostering Olympism and the Olympic movement.
What is Olympism?
- Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining, in a balanced whole, the qualities of body, will and mind.
- Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life-based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of a good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.
- The goal of the Olympic movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practised without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair-play.
Structure of IOC
The IOC is a permanent organisation that elects its own members.
- Each member must speak French or English and be a citizen of or reside in a country that has a National Olympic Committee.
- With very few exceptions, there is only one member from any one country.
- Members were originally elected for life, but those elected after 1965 must retire at 75.
- The IOC is the final authority on all questions concerning the Olympic games and the Olympic movement.
- It was for the first time that 204 National Olympic Committees represented their countries at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
- The Executive Board which meets four-five times a year to manage the IOC’s affairs has a President elected for an eight-year term and four Vice-Presidents who are each elected for a four-year term.
- There are usually six members on the Executive Board. These members are elected for a four-year term.
- The administration is carried under the authority of a Director-General and a Secretary-General.
- The Olympic Charter is the codification of the fundamental principles, rules and bye-laws adopted by the IOC.
- It governs the organisation and operation of the Olympic Movement and stipulates the conditions for the celebration of the Olympic Games.
Activities of IOC
Under the supreme authority of the IOC, the Olympic Movement encompasses organisations, athletes and other persons who agree to be guided by the Olympic Charter.
- The criterion for belonging to the Olympic movement is recognition by the IOC.
- The activity of the Olympic movement is permanent and universal.
- It reaches its peak with the bringing together of the athletes of the world at the great sports festival, the Olympic Games.
- The Olympic Summer Games take place during the first year of the Olympiad (period of four years) which they are to celebrate.
- They are the exclusive property of the IOC, which entrusts their organisation to a host city seven years in advance.
- The programme of the Games must include at least 15 of the total number of Olympic sports (sports governed by recognized International Federations and admitted to the Olympic programme by the decision of the IOC at least seven-year before the Games).