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Apr 27, 2017
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In a landmark judgment, Uttarakhand High Court on 20.3.2017 ruled that holy rivers, Ganga and Yamuna are living human entities. The verdict has given the two sacred rivers the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities.

The strange order came after a PIL was filed in 2014 making it the first river to be declared so in India. A week before this judgment, a court in New Zealand had ruled the Whanganui River as a ‘living entity’, making it the first water body in the world to be granted the status.

A bench of Justice Rajeev Sharma and Justice Alok Singh allowed the director general of Namami Gange project, Uttarakhand chief secretary and advocate general the right to represent the Ganga.

Being a ‘living entity’ the court has made the Chief Secretary and the Advocate General of Uttarakhand the “legal parents” of the two rivers, as it originates from the state. The court has asked the two officials to “work as the human face to protect, conserve and preserve them and their tributaries.”

Ganga is the holiest Hindu river and, the world’s third largest river, also amongst the dirtiest rivers in the world, with toxic industrial waste and untreated sewage. The river originates from Gangotri in Uttarakhand and, flows through Uttarakhand, UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal before emptying into the Bay of Bengal. On the other hand Yamuna is its largest tributary and originates from Yamunotri in Uttarakhand.

The ‘living person’ term should not be seen in literal terms but. This is strictly in legal terms, where they will be considered as a legal or juristic person. Since the rivers are ‘living entities’ the significance is they have the right to property. They can also be party to disputes.

This will go a long way in stopping unlawful constructions and encroachments along the rivers and its tributaries. It can file cases and take people to court for such actions. The two rivers will now have legal rights as enjoyed by minors, in cases of ownership of property. They can be ‘represented’ in the court by others as they are considered as minors and, therefore, needs a Guardian to fight their legal battles.

While both Ganga and Yamuna have been declared as living entities, which awards them certain rights, they don’t enjoy them beyond the legal framework.

In the case of the two holy rivers, another major development that could come out of this judgement is the possible ban on mining on the Ganga flood plains. Various governmental and non-governmental assessments have called for an end to sand mining, dredging, stone crushing, sediment removal, and mining of other materials from river beds.
The verdict is expected to give a boost to the clean Ganga mission, one of the pet projects of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Even with crores spent on clean-up in the past couple of years, the two holy rivers remain as polluted as ever.

A large stretch of the Yamuna is technically dead due to the release of untreated sewage into it, many activists wonder if the order would ensure that every drain that enters the river carries treated water or if a minimum “ecological flow” will be maintained to sustain life in the river.

The verdict will help in fixing accountability of officials in curbing the uncontrolled menace, which has been slowly killing the rivers worshiped the by millions. This move, the court hopes, will be able to save two of the most polluted rivers in the world.

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