Whenever an entity stood for itself to claim specific interest, it has faced humiliation at every possible level. Fight for rights never gone smoothly in history, for instance, women’s rights, slave’s rights, children’s rights, rights of a prisoner of war, etc. (Stone 1972: 451). Nobody thought in earlier times that even these could be considered as rights. The problem with our society is that we work for our self-interest. We exploit a thing up to a level that entity itself gets a realization that whatever is happening with them is not correct. Apart from self-interest, a perspective always plays a vital role in protecting the interest of the victim. The exploiters might never imagine that their actions are, in a way, harmful to the other being. Such exploitation can be rectified only with enlightenment and awareness among the general masses in time. It is to be understood that rights are always needed by the oppressed, not the oppressor. The journey of plant rights is no exception to this situation. When people come across this term, they laugh at the very first instance, considering it to be just a vague concept. This notion did not even find much discussion among the academician across the globe.
Furthermore, we disregard someone’s right, either knowingly or unknowingly. In the case of plant rights, it is mostly unknowingly since we do not consider plants to as being as they do not behave like humans or animals. Various studies suggest that plants own life, and they do respond to their surroundings in their way (Tandon 2019: 593). However, scientists are skeptical about the question of sentience in plants (Pelizzon and Gagliano 2015). Thus it makes the whole regime uncertain and necessary to be further analyzed with extra care.
The fact that plants cannot speak like other creatures does not make them less being. If they live and die like other entities on this planet, then we should reconsider our legal regime to address their concerns. Present laws for the protection of plants provide a limited scope in their application. Humans consider plants as a commodity and govern their conservation for the fulfillment of their own needs. This issue necessitates a plant-centric legal regime that should enable plants to possess their own legal identity and rights. There exist scientific limitations to provide evidence for this study. However, it is appropriate to develop an approach today, so to avoid any guilt in the future.
NEED FOR PLANT RIGHTS
The underlying issue with the plants is that they are not granted rights per se. Any violation of plant rights cannot be brought before the courts with a reason that an injury has been inflicted upon plants. The actions against plants can be challenged in the court only when it affects the interests of other human beings related to such plants. If one cannot show the nexus between the plant and its owner or regulator, then the accused party shall not be held liable for its derogatory actions. This scenario depicts a problem where the interests of the plants are compromised, and those of humans prevail.
The human-centric legal regime provides that nature should be conserved and protected to fulfill the needs of humans (Shastri 2013: 523). On the contrary, one should argue that several plant species are on the verge of extinction. It is necessary to develop a legal regime to prevent biodiversity loss and mitigate floral destruction (Marder 2013: 46-47).
Further, scientific studies are uncertain on the issue of pleasure and pain in plants (Calvo, Sahi and Trewavas 2017). Scientists have a difference in opinion on this issue. Where one set considers that plants lack a nervous system so they cannot respond to pain, the other argues that plants work differently from humans (Shepherd 2012). Daniel Chamovitz, in his 2012 book ‘What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses’ has called such a response of plants as “anoetic consciousness” – an ability to sense and react (Chamovitz 2012). However, if plants feel pain, for instance, then even plucking a leaf from the plant will constitute an illegal action that will not be preferred by the plant. Thus a need arose to determine the status of a silent entity to ensure global justice in the world.
PLANT RIGHTS: DEFINITION AND SCOPE
As per Christopher Stone in his book “Should Trees Have Standing? – Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects”, the realm of legal rights entails three aspects for the right holder. Firstly, such rights-holder can take legal action at their will. Secondly, the injury needs to be identifiable by the court that is determining relief for such an entity. Thirdly, such assistance must be in the interest of rights-holder and benefit him (Stone 1972: 458).
The definition of plant rights can be read in similar lines of human rights. Those inherent rights that every plant possesses by being a plant are its plant rights. International human rights found its basis on the principles of universality, indivisibility, interdependence, and interrelatedness (Whelan 2010). These plant rights shall be based on the similar principles of human rights. Apart from the right to live and protect against their extinction, plant rights shall also include dignity and ethical considerations for the plant. The plants shall not be subjected to the arbitrary and unethical actions of a human.
The term ‘arbitrary’ and ‘unethical’ are subjective and open for debate. While determining the scope of these rights, some might consider even plucking of the flower to be arbitrary. In contrast, for the others, arbitrariness could include deforestation, destructive cultivation, affecting reproduction, and changing the genetic pattern of plants. Although this debate is unsettled, however, the plant’s life and their dignity need to be respected beyond doubt (Schulp 2019: 112).
NATURE OF PLANT RIGHTS
Both Christopher Stone and Peter Singer have argued that these rights should not be followed in their strict sense. Granting of rights did not mean equal treatment, rather equal consideration (Singer 1993). If we take plant rights up to the absolute sense, humans cannot even have food on their plates. In such a scenario, then will it means that we are compromising the right to life of humans. Also, before identifying their rights, it is to be determined that whether each plant on earth shall be given equal rights, or we could bring some differentiation or exemption while conferring rights to some of them. Thus a distinction between vegetable and ornamental plants could be observed while determining the nature and extent of plant rights.
Science mentions that plants and animals have a similar origin (Meyerowitz 1999). Where we have a plethora of rights for one animal (humans), it is pertinent to have rights for plant kingdom that must be plant-centric instead of being human-centric. The new system should protect the interests of plants instead of humans.
WHAT ARE THE PRESENT LAWS FOR PLANT?
The present plant regime is regulated by numerous international instruments covering various aspects of plant protection. International Plant Protection Convention of 1951 prevents the entry and spreading of pests on plants. International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture of 2004, also known as the International Seed Treaty aims for food security through conservation and sustainable use of plant’s genetic resources. It works in the collaboration of the Convention on Biological Diversity, another multilateral framework with a goal of conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components, and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, 1973 (CITES) is another multilateral arrangement to protect endangered plants and animals. International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 1961 (UPOV) provides intellectual property rights to the generators of new varieties of plants.
Though the present international law non-uniformly recognizes the intrinsic value of plants still, it does not accord any legal personality to plants. Notably, some of these instruments consider plants as an object and protect them, not for their conservation but to fulfill the requirements of human. The present situation could be understood similarly as to the rights of indigenous peoples that are considered necessary for their lives and livelihood against economic developments (Phillips 2015). Thus, plants should have a mechanism available to seek redressal for their grievances.
In the 21st century, there were attempts to recognize this new realm of rights. On the 56th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Venezuelan government organizations and biological groups adopted the Universal Declaration of Plant Rights that consists of 22 principles. This declaration presents a very stringent protectionist view of plant rights. Also, the April 2008 Swiss Report “The Dignity of Living Beings with Regard to Plants” claims that since plants are alive, their morality must be respected. Further, they must not be considered as an object that can be owned by anyone (Willemsen 2008: 20).
States have reflected a commendable approach to provide legal rights to environmental entities. In the year 2008, Ecuador became the first state to adopt the rights of nature in its constitution (Revkin 2008). In 2010, Bolivia adopted legislation to grant legal standing to nature (Eckstein et al 2019: 805). New Zealand provided legal personality to Te Urewera national park in 2014, and later such status was also conferred to Mount Taranaki and Whanganui river to represent their interest through its guardians (Gleeson-White 2018). Similarly, in 2017, Uttarakhand High Court in India has conferred the status of ‘living entity’ upon river Ganga and Yamuna by making Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand, ‘Namami Gange‘ project director and Advocate General of the State as a legal parent to the river to represent their interest in the court (Salim v State of Uttarakhand and Others 2014). In the same year, Columbia has granted legal rights to the river Rio Atrato (Mount 2017). Thus, a similar approach is needed to be undertaken for plants as well where custodians are to be appointed those who may speak purely for the interest of plants before the court of law.
As we need a law to protect our liberties, provide remedies, and tackle all forms of oppression and discrimination. Similarly, plants also require the same for their existence. It is not a justified argument that since plants cannot speak so they cannot argue and plead in the court of law for their rights. Bentham advocates that the threshold to determine rights for a being should be their capacity to suffer (Singer 1993). Being a right-holder, plants can bring the claim for their interest. Moreover, such law much is made considering their interest at large. The emergence of a new right for an entity diminishes the existing realm of rights exercised by the others. Thus such necessary amendments need to be brought in our present legal system. Also, such plant rights shall be treated at par with human rights, if not superior.
Both plants and animals require sunlight, air, water, wind, earth, for their survival and development. Studies say that plant does communicate with each other in different forms (Karban 2008). Plants like ‘Touch-me-not’ (mimosa pudica) (Kumar et al 2009) or sunflower (helianthus) (Vandenbrink et al 2014: 21) shows a response to the external stimuli. It is also said that plant never dies until affected by any human-made or natural factor (Trewavas 2016). Most importantly, the plant produces ‘seeds’ that signifies the essence of life in them. It can be said that they are not a machine that breathes carbon dioxide in the presence of the sun and vice-versa. On the contrary, they occupy an essential part of the environment, along with humans. Based on a few fundamental differences between plants and animals, for example, mobility, one cannot ignore equality between the components of the environment.
The critical question is, ‘Whether plants feel pain?’ Up till now, no accurate answer has been obtained from studies. Different scientists have suggested various theories for it. The response to the issue of plant rights found its basis in a more nuanced scientific discovery. So now, another question could arise ‘What should be done until we get a certain answer?’ In the absence of such knowledge, should it be appropriate to leave the notion of plant rights aside to be decided by our future generation? Another preferable aspect could be to set up a framework for now identifying the fundamental issues of plant rights. Such a regime should come from the plant’s perspective as a matter of being a living entity. No matter, science may take the time to answer the plant mystery; however, as a human, it is our responsibility to show respect towards the plant and their dignity in our actions (Koechlin 2009). It requires sensitization among people that rather objectifying plants as a matter to fulfill their selfish needs.
A strict need for change in perception is required. Since all of our previous generations, including us, have grown up exploiting plants from ages directly or indirectly, consequently today we do not sense any form of injustice in it. We got very well accommodated in this regime, and it seems beyond imagination to think of any such idea as plant rights. This reform is challenging; however, not impossible. It would be an honor for our generation and a gift for future ones if we can correct something that has been wrongly followed by our forefathers, especially after industrialization.
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