TODAY -

Time has come to criminalise ecocide
- The People's Chronicle Editorial :: May 13, 2024 -



IN what could be seen as the one and only means to settle the issue for once and all, it is good to learn that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has taken cognisance of the claims being made by the government of Manipur regarding loss of forest cover in the state due to encroachment and deforestation for poppy cultivation.

Along with registering a suo moto case based on a social media post in which the chief minister of Manipur N Biren Singh once again claimed, with documentary evidences this time, that the tiny northeastern Indian state had a forest cover of 17,475 sq km in 1987, but it has shrunk to 16,598 sq km in 2021 due to encroachment and rampant deforestation, primarily to grow poppy plants for extracting opium in hill areas inhabited by people of Kuki-Chin communities.

However, this claim has been contested by Kuki-Chin communities, who assert that the government's actions are only to target them with an ulterior motive to grab their lands.

As this issue is intertwined with the ethnic tension that has been prevailing in the state for more than one year now after people of Kuki-Chin communities clashed with the Meetei/Meitei days after a Manipur high court ruling on the latter's demand for recognition as Scheduled Tribe (ST) under the Constitution of India, we hope that as a special adjudicatory body constituted by an Act of Parliament, the National Green Tribunal Act 2010, to deal with issues related to environmental protection and other natural resources in the country, NGT would dive deep down and help in resolving the matter.

Now that a principal bench Of NGT chairperson justice Prakash Shrivastava and expert member Dr A Senthil Vel impleaded themselves as respondents in the suo moto, and sent the requisite notices to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), and the Forest Survey of India (FSI) returnable within a week and listed the matter for hearing on July 31, it is now only a matter of time to know the truth.

In the meantime, we would like to spotlight on the seriousness of loss of forest cover and degradation of environmental condition which has become a threat to the survival of not Just the human beings but also of the entire species on this earth.

Apart from reducing the ability of forests to provide clean air and water, loss of forest cover and environmental has affected the climatic condition to such an extent today that the day may not far for our planet to become unhabitable and the signs are everywhere to be missed by even the climate sceptics.

The seriousness of the issue is such that right from Pope Francis, who, as the head of Roman Catholic Church, makes decisions on issues of faith and morality of about 1.3 billion Catholics living throughout the world; to the young Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who is at the forefront of challenging world leaders to take immediate action for climate change mitigation; many people around the globe are calling for recognising 'ecocide' as a crime.

After a panel of criminal and environmental lawyers from around the world, who are pushing for criminalising mass damage and destruction of ecosystems, came up with the legal definition of "ecocide" in 2021 as "unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts," as many as 12 countries including Russia, France, Ukraine, Vietnam, etc., have so far criminalised ecocide, while more and more countries like Mexico, the Netherlands, Belgium, Scotland, etc., are mulling laws to make ecocide a punishable crime.

Taking cue from this global effort to combat a crime which is even more serious than genocide, perhaps, it's time for the government of India to think of joining the league with due consideration of the fact how the issue of wilful destruction of forests for poppy cultivation in Manipur has resulted in a protracted devastating ethnic conflict with no solution in sight.



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