• A great open air venue in the lap of Chandigarh’s iconic Open Hand monument at the USESCO World Heritage Site, Capitol Complex, was a perfect setting on a cool Sunday evening for a unique and absorbing ‘staged’ or ‘performative’ hearing of a fictional petition ‘In The Matter Re: Rights of Nature’ before a fictional bench of NGT (National Green Tribunal).

The ‘NGT bench’, hearing the case of great significance in the wake of the increasing number of devastating worldwide adverse events apparently occurring due to climate change, was impressive, as were the advocates representing the petitioners, the state and a fictional farmers’ organisation.

Photos By : Life In Chandigarh

The ‘expert witnesses’ were among the best brains in the country in their respective fields. The other ‘witnesses’ from the parties concerned were artists known to have done notable work in fields related to environment, climate change, farming, cropping patterns and distress among marginal as well as landless farmers and farm labourers.

The ‘petition’ was filed by Pooja Sood, founding member and Director of Delhi-based Khoj International Artists’ Association, and theatre director Zuleikha Chaudhari along with a minor living in Delhi. The context was the relationship between the air pollution of Delhi / National Capital Region (NCR) and the stubble burning phenomena which occurs annually in neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab.

The prayer of the ‘petitioners’ was in two parts - one, seeking absolute prohibition on stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana, and imposing costs over the respective state functionaries, including the farmers, for violations of various judgements of the Supreme Court and the NGT itself; and two, to declare ‘Rights of Nature’ or ‘Naturehood’ status to be an essential feature of the ‘Right to Life’, as enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

Even though the ‘staged hearing’ was rather too long, and had its share of glitches with mikes, etc, a vast majority of the sizable audience, apparently comprising citizens concerned over the issue of environmental degradation and climate change, not only endured through the three hours, but rather enjoyed the absorbing and informative points and counter points presented. The ‘judges’ contributed their bit to keep the audiences in good humour with their occasional mirthful interventions.

The ‘staged hearing’ followed all protocols, procedures and laws of the NGT, which would have been a first time experience for almost everyone in the audience. It had all the elements of an actual hearing with opening and closing statements by the lawyers, examination and cross examination of witness testimonies (along with evidence), and the final judgement on the matter.

Eventually, after hearing the counterpoints presented by the ‘counsel’ and witnesses for the farmers’ organisation, that the farmers were in fact the victims of various government policies, including the seasonal mono crop pattern thrust upon them to ensure food security of the country, and agreeing with it, the counsel for the ‘petitioners’ withdrew the first part of the prayer.

In its final judgement the ‘NGT bench’ accepted the plea of the ‘petitioners’ that the ‘Right To Life’, as enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, is inseparable from the ‘Rights of Nature’ and directed the government to initiate necessary steps to incorporate amendments in the mentioned Article to grant ‘Naturehood’ status.

Audiences at the start of the proceedings. The seats filled up further as the evening progressed

Conceived by: Pooja Sood, founding member and Director, Delhi-based Khoj International Artists’ Association, and theatre director Zuleikha Chaudhari, and developed with advocate Harish Mehla.

The distinguished ‘NGT bench’ comprised retired Punjab & Haryana High Court justices Rajive Bhalla, Kamaljit Singh Garewal and K. Kannan.

The ‘appellants’ were represented by advocate Harish Mehla, who is co-founder of ‘Collective of Lawyers’.

The ‘farmers’ organisation’ was represented by well known senior advocate Manmohan Lal Sarin.

The ‘state’ was defended by young advocate Mannat Anand, who is a partner at Anand & Sood Law firm.

The impressive list of ‘expert witnesses’ included a practicing farmer and well known former bureaucrat Kahan Singh Pannu, who has worked in various senior capacities in the agriculture domain as well as state pollution control board; Prof (Dr) Tarini Mehta, a professor and advocate specialising in environmental and human rights law; and Dr Manish Kumar Shrivastava, a senior fellow at Teri, the reputed energy and resources institute which is known to create innovative solutions for a sustainable future.

The ‘other witnesses’ were  Shweta Bhattad, who has created a collective space for the people in Paradsinga, Madhya Pradesh with the Gram Art Project; Delhi-based artist duo of Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra, whose recent interest in ecology and climate change has manifested in revisiting of their family histories of migration and farming in Punjab; and Randeep Maddoke, a Punjab-based concept photographer and documentary filmmaker, whose debut documentary film ‘Landless’ on the issues faced by Indian Dalit farm labourers was also screened during the ‘staged hearing’.

The role of ‘Court Master’ was enacted by Zuleikha Chaudhari


LifeInChandigarh.com  by APR Media House is an enjoyable digital reading startup, which keeps you abreast of the latest meaningful happenings of interest to large sections of folks in Chandigarh tricity, and expats from the region. It has been promoted by a public spirited senior journalist and media consultant with a view to encourage good quality and healthy journalism, a dire need of the times.

To keep in touch, drop an email or call :

trending now