Ganga & Yamuna are ‘living persons’ with legal rights, decrees Uttarakhand HC – Vineet Upadhyay

Devprayag : Confluence of the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda rivers, and birthplace of the Ganga.

Ganga DeviThe status accorded to the Ganga and the Yamuna means that if anyone is found polluting the rivers, it would amount to harming a human being. – Vineet Upadhyay

In the first order of its kind in the country, the Uttarakhand High Court on Monday decreed that the Ganga and the Yamuna as well as their tributaries and sister bodies be declared “legal and living entities having the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities.”

This, the court said, was to ensure “preservation and conservation of the two rivers and to protect the recognition and faith of society.”

A division bench of Justices Alok Singh and Rajiv Sharma noted that “the extraordinary situation has arisen since the rivers Ganga and the Yamuna are losing their very existence.”

The court’s order comes days after a landmark bill passed in New Zealand making the Whanganui river, revered by the indigenous Maori people, the first in the world to be recognised as a living entity with full legal rights.

The status accorded to the Ganga and the Yamuna, legal experts said, would mean that if anyone was found polluting the rivers, it would amount to harming a human being.

“By this order, the court has recognised ‘fifth generation rights’ which are not limited to humans but extend to the habitat. The order will give a new dimension to the laws framed for protection of the environment,” said senior lawyer K. H. Gupta.

The court named the director of Namami Gange, the chief secretary of Uttarakhand and the advocate general of the state “persons in loco parentsi“—the human face representing the rivers. “All the Hindus have deep astha in the Ganga and the Yamuna and they collectively connect with these rivers. The rivers are central to the existence of half of the Indian population and their health and well being. They have provided both physical and spiritual sustenance to all of us from time immemorial,” the judges said.

The judges noted that a “startling revelation” had been made by the senior joint commissioner, Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation, that “despite long correspondence, neither the state of UP nor the state of Uttarakhand are cooperating with the central government for the constitution of Ganga Management Board”. The High Court ordered the central government to constitute the board and make it functional “within a period of three months…. We need not remind the state governments that they are bound to obey the orders passed by the central government, failing which consequences may ensue under Article 365 of the Constitution of India.” – Times of India, 21 March 2017

Prayag : Confluence of the Ganga (muddy brown) and Yamuna (dark blue) rivers

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