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Ganga and Yamuna are ‘living entities’ order puts onus for clean-up on Centre

Now with the BJP government both in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, it remains to be seen how the Centre implements this order

editorials Updated: Mar 31, 2017 20:34 IST
Hindustan Times
Devotees take a dip in Ganga on the first day of Ardh Kumbh fair, Haridwar, January 14, 2016(Hindustan Times)

In a country where nature is often treated as a ‘second-class’ citizen, the Uttarakhand High Court’s recent decision to recognise the Ganga and Yamuna as living entities is a positive one. This is the first time that a court has recognised a non-human as a living entity in India. The order grants these rivers a new-found legal identity and all rights laid out in the Constitution. They can also be parties to disputes. The rights, experts say, can be used to protect the interests of the rivers.

The HC’s decision comes just days after New Zealand according a living entity status to its third largest river, Whanganui, in one of the longest running court cases that country has seen. The country passed a bill declaring the river as a living entity and appointed two guardians to protect its interests.

While the order is a positive one, whether it will have any impact at all on the ground remains to be seen. This is because the order is given by a state high court which means that its jurisdiction will be within the state. It now remains to be seen whether the authorities heading the Namami Gange (Clean Ganga) Mission, a pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched to clean and revive the river, will extend it to states though which the rivers flow.

Now with the BJP government both in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, it remains to be seen how the Centre implements this order and whether it has any impact on the upcoming and planned hydropower projects in the hill state.

“[The legal status] is an extension of the philosophy of allowing a river to flow freely—as was intended in its nature. Any interference with the river as a whole, including construction of dams, takes away from its essential and basic character. Such a move by court would involve a re-look into construction activities across the river such as sand mining and construction of dams,” environmental lawyer Ritwik Dutta told MINT.

Unfortunately, the state and Centre are also vested parties in the dam construction activities. What the judicial order has essentially done is put the ball in state and the Centre’s court. The latter attaches religious significance to thee rivers. Now it must walk the talk.

First Published: Mar 22, 2017 15:49 IST