Ganges, India's most polluted river and Yamuna, one of its major tributaries have been recognized as legal persons in an attempt to restore them to health. The landmark court ruling comes just 5 days after New Zealand awarded similar rights to Whanganui River – its own spiritual river. Those three rivers are now the first in the world to have all rights that persons have.
On Monday, March 20, 2017, the highest court in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, where the Ganges originates, declared the Ganges and Yamuna as 'living entities having the status of a legal person' and all corresponding rights.
Ganges is the world's third largest river and among the dirtiest in the world, with toxic industrial waste and untreated sewage reducing it to a dirty trickle at several places.
The state's High Court in the resort town of Nainital said it took the unusual step because the hallowed rivers upon which Hindu rites are conducted were "losing their very existence". "This situation requires extraordinary measures to preserve and conserve these rivers," the court said in its ruling, as reported by AFP.
Activists celebrated the groundbreaking ruling but cautioned against over-optimism given the scale of the task at hand.
"At the end of the day, one can only hope the symbolism attached to this order translates into real action on the ground," Sanjay Upadhyay, a New Delhi-based environment lawyer, told AFP.
Hearing a petition for removing encroachments from the Shakti Canal on the Yamuna in Dehradun district, the high court asked the district magistrate to clear the areas in 72 hours or face legal action, Hindustan Times reported.
MC Pant, who appeared for petitioner Md Salim, said any case or complaint filed could now be filed in the name of the rivers.
“I had earlier asked officials to remove encroachments. I will find out why it was not done and take action against concerned officials” Dehradun district magistrate Ravinath Raman told HT.
Featured image credit: Matt Stabile (CC – Flickr)
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