One of the largest rivers in India, Ganga is considered to be the holiest river and holds a high place in the mythology of India.

On March 20, 2017, the high court of Uttarakhand ruled that “the Rivers Ganga and Yamuna, all their tributaries, streams, every natural water flowing with flow continuously or intermittently of these rivers, are declared as juristic/legal persons/living entities having the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person in order to preserve and conserve river Ganga and Yamuna.” 

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.

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

The move in Uttarakhand is not the first such, but it certainly is extremely rare and puts the state—indeed India, given that the Ganga is called the nation’s lifeline—on a pretty much uncharted course. 

They appointed three officials as persons in loco parentis (Latin for ‘in place of parents’) as “the human face to protect, conserve and preserve Rivers Ganga and Yamuna and their tributaries.” They are the Director of NAMAMI Gange (a central government project to clean the Ganga), the chief secretary of Uttarakhand and the advocate general of Uttarakhand. 

“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.

The decision to humanize rivers has invited mixed reactions on social media. While some have welcomed it, others have been a tad critical and snarky.


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