In the matter Re: Rights of Nature took the form of a fictional National Green Tribunal (NGT) hearing exploring the relationship between the air pollution of Delhi / National Capital Region (NCR) and the stubble burning phenomena which occurs annually in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana.
The project foregrounded Rights Of Nature as an expansion of Right to Life as enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Following on from an earlier project staged as a Commission of Inquiry under the Commission of Inquiry Act 1952, Landscape As Evidence: Artist As Witness, this project employed the format of the NGT in order to explore “principles of natural justice” in the context of environmental justice.
The fictional case, filed by Khoj International Artists’ Association, Zuleikha Chaudhari and Maya Anandan, represented by her Legal Guardian (mother), Ms. Radhika Chopra, New Delhi, indicts the Union of India through the Ministry of Environment, the respective State stakeholders, and a fictitious Farmer’s Union for their inability to stop stubble-burning in areas of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. The hearing staged the arguments put forth by the three parties considering fundamental issues that place both the human and non-human in polluted ecosystems.
The hearing included three practising lawyers Manmohan Lal Sarin, Mannat Anand, and Harish Mehla; three subject expert witnesses Kahan Singh Pannu, Manish Shrivastava, and Tarini Mehta; three retired judges Justice Rajive Bhalla, Justice Kamaljit Singh Garewal, and Justice K Kannan as well as three artists Shweta Bhattad, Thukral and Tagra, and Randeep Maddoke. It followed the protocols, procedures and laws of the NGT. The project was grounded in current environmental laws in India which exist within major central legislations. The hearing therefore entailed opening and closing statements by the lawyers, examination and cross examination of witness testimonies (along with evidence), and the final judgement on the matter.
The final judgement stated that it is urgent to recognise and uphold the rights of nature as per the arguments and evidence presented to the bench. However, stubble burning is a dynamic issue, and a complete ban on it is not an equitable solution. It is important for all stakeholders to come together and work towards upholding the Rights of Nature.
Conceived by Khoj International Artists’ Association and artist Zuleikha Chaudhari, in collaboration with lawyer Harish Mehla, the staged hearing was the fourth iteration of Khoj’s programme Does the Blue Sky Lie?: Testimonies of Air’s Toxicities.