Ganga can wash away all sins, people have failed the river: Uttarakhand high court
The Uttarakhand high court order invoking Rigveda to declare the Ganga and Yamuna living entities, bestowing on them same legal rights as a person, is unprecedented for more than one reason.
First, it equates the two rivers to a Hindu idol, with right to property but also liable to paying tax.
Second, by naming the Namami Gange director, Uttarakhand advocate general and chief secretary as guardians, the court has given them the power to initiate action on behalf of the two rivers to protect them. But, these officials will also be liable for penalty if someone files complaint against the rivers.
While passing the order on Monday, the court borrowed heavily from Hindu texts to argue in favour of the rivers being declared “juristic persons”.
“All the Hindus have deep astha (faith) in rivers Ganga and Yamuna and they collectively connect with these rivers… The rivers have provided both physical and spiritual sustenance to all of us from time immemorial,” the court said. The two rivers were “breathing, living and sustaining the communities from mountains to sea”.
The court, citing widely held Hindu belief, also said a dip in “River Ganga can wash away all the sins”, as it also referred to the river finding mention in Hindu scriptures, including the Rigveda.
The 2,500km Ganga originates from Gaumukh glacier and the source of Yamuna, which is its longest tributary, is the Yamnotri glacier.
Held sacred by Hindus, the rivers are choked with industrial effluents and untreated sewage.
The court was hearing a petition for removing encroachments from the Shakti Canal on the Yamuna in Dehradun district.
The district magistrate was given 72 hours to clear the encroachments.
Justice Rajeev Sharma and justice Alok Singh said individuals had fallen short in conserving the rivers, therefore, evolution of fictional personality to be a juristic persons was inevitable.
“This may be any entity, living inanimate, objects or things. It may be a religious institution or any such useful unit which may impel the courts to recognise it,” the order said. “God is omnipotent and omniscient.”
Implications of the order
1. It gives allows the director of Namami Gange, Uttarakhand advocate general and chief secretary to penalise those polluting Ganga, illegal miners and encroachers. The three can approach court or any other authority on behalf of the rivers. Namami Gange is the Modi government’s ambitious plan to clean Ganga by 2020.
2. On the other hand, people can also sue the Ganga and Yamuna for causing devastation, especially in case of flash floods. In such a situation, the three officers will have to represent the rivers in the court.
3. The order gives the guardians the authority to take steps to protect the rivers. “When an idol, was recognised as a juristic person, it was known it could not act by itself. As in the case of a minor a guardian is appointed, so in the case of idol, a shebait, or manager, is appointed to act on its behalf,” the court said.
4. The Ganga and Yamuna can own property like any Hindu idol and pay taxes as spelt out in a Supreme Court order. “A Hindu idol is a juristic entity capable of holding property and of being taxed through its shebaits (managers) who are entrusted with the possession and management of its property,” the top court said in 1969.
5. The Uttarakhand order can set a precedent for other high courts to declare rivers or water bodies as juristic persons. If that happens, government will have to appoint custodians for rivers as it does for temples.