In a landmark judgement, Uttarakhand high court declared Ganga and Yamuna rivers “living entities” on Monday, days after a similar order was passed in New Zealand.
The ruling raises hope that the process of cleaning these pollution-battered rivers will gain pace now. “It’s a beautiful order,” says Supreme Court Advocate Nipun Saxena. “This judgment is a historic precedent because it uses the concept of legal person, which was only used for (religious) idols until now, and extends its application to rivers,” says Saxena. A similar order was passed in New Zealand ŝve days ago, making Whanganui River the ŝrst water body in the world to be granted ‘living entity’ status.

So what does this ruling mean for Ganga and Yamuna?

#1 Now that they are considered ‘living entities’, these rivers and their tributaries hold the same legal rights as a person. Like you, they are not natural persons, but in the eyes of law, they will be seen as “a legal or juristic person”.

“Juristic persons are made for the sake of convenience, so as to manage the assets. Say, for example, to manage the huge properties that are regularly dedicated to Tirupati Balaji. Therefore the law has recognized that an idol of the temple is a legal or juristic person,” explains Nipun.

#2 The ruling means that the rivers are essentially like minors — incapable of holding or using the property — and need to be placed under the care of a manager and/or a guardian. These caretakers will be responsible for ensuring the rivers are not misused, abused or misappropriated for personal use.

In this case, the Advocate General has been appointed “to personally look into the affairs and manage the board which is to protect and preserve Ganga and Yamuna,” says Saxena.

#3 The rivers will be represented by court appointed individuals, who will file and contest cases in the rivers’ names.

#4 In line with the ruling, “mining in river bed of Ganga and its highest flood plain area” has also been banned forthwith. The court has appointed the district magistrate and sub-divisional magistrate to ensure implementation of the order.

A LANDMARK RULING

Both Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have been widely criticised for failing to clean and maintain the rivers held sacred by thousands of Hindus. Which makes this ruling the first concrete step to ensure action and accountability.But it’s not just this that makes the ruling exceptional.In the past, such rights have only be accorded to idols of deities to streamline the upkeep and maintenance of temple assets. According to Nipun, this judgment “aligns religious overtures with ecological balance”.