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India’s Ganges and Yamuna rivers given same rights as humans

Uttarakhand state’s High Court ruling means that if anyone harms or pollutes either river, the law would view it as no different from harming a person.
A woman prays by a candle light as two men use a boat to make their way upstream in the confluence of the Yomuna and the Ganges river at the Sangam, which was given the same legal rights as humans on March 21, 2017. Roberto Schmidt/AFP
A woman prays by a candle light as two men use a boat to make their way upstream in the confluence of the Yomuna and the Ganges river at the Sangam, which was given the same legal rights as humans on March 21, 2017. Roberto Schmidt/AFP

NEW DELHI // A court in northern India has granted the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, considered sacred by nearly a billion Indians, same legal rights as a human.

Uttarakhand state’s High Court ruled Monday that the two rivers to be accorded the status of living human entities, meaning that if anyone harms or pollutes either river, the law would view it as no different from harming a person.

Judges Rajeev Sharma and Alok Singh said the Ganges and Yamuna rivers and their tributaries be declared “legal and living entities having the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities”.

The judges cited the example of New Zealand’s Whanganui River, revered by the indigenous Maori people. The Whanganui was declared a living entity with full legal rights by the New Zealand government last week.

The Uttarakhand court, located in the Himalayan resort town of Nainital, also appointed three officials to act as legal custodians responsible for conserving and protecting the waterways.

The case came up in court after officials complained that the governments of Uttarakhand and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh were not co-operating with federal government efforts to set up a panel to protect the Ganges.

The court ordered that the Ganga Management Board be set up and begin working within three months.

Environment activists say many rivers across India have become dirtier with city sewage, farming pesticides and industrial waste freely flowing into waterways despite laws against polluting.

Officials say the Yamuna is tainted with sewage and industrial pollution. In some places, it has stagnated to the point that it no longer supports fish or other forms of aquatic life.

Water from the Yamuna is chemically treated before being supplied to Delhi’s nearly 19 million residents as drinking water.

* Associated Press

Updated: March 21, 2017 04:00 AM

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