On the 20th March 2017, just before international World Water Day, we were inspired to discover that a significant legal case for the Rights of Nature had taken place in the Northern Indian state of Uttarakhand.
The Uttarakhand high court in Nainital granted the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers the same legal rights as humans. Judges Rajeev Sharma and Alok Singh ordered that the two rivers and their tributaries, should from now on be considered as legal and living entities and have the status of a human being with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities; meaning that if anyone harms or pollutes the rivers, the law would view it as no different from harming a person. The Court has appointed three officials to act as legal custodians, responsible for conserving and protecting the Ganges and Yamuna rivers and their tributaries and ordered that the Ganga Management Board be set up and begin working within three months.
Environmental experts say that many rivers across India have become dirtier as the country’s economy has developed, with urban sewage, industrial effluents and farming pesticides freely flowing into the waterways despite laws against polluting. Officials say that the Yamuna is so badly tainted with sewage and industrial pollution and that in some places it has stagnated to the point that it no longer supports fish or other forms of aquatic life. This is very significant because it is the main tributary of the Ganges and together they provide water for drinking and agriculture and sustain the lives of an immeasurable number of people and life forms, from their sources in the Himalayas, all the way down to the ocean.
Recognising that the Ganges and Yamuna rivers are considered to be sacred by nearly a billion people, the judges cited the case of the Whanganui River, revered by the indigenous Māori people, of the North Island of New Zealand. They have fought for the recognition of their river – the third largest in New Zealand – as an ancestor for 140 years. Hundreds of tribal representatives wept with joy, when their bid to have their kin awarded legal status as a living entity, was finally passed into law by the New Zealand government last week and the Whanganui River was declared a living entity with full legal rights. Gerrard Albert, the lead negotiator for the Whanganui iwi tribe said:
“We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that from our perspective treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as an indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management.”
We at Active Remedy hope that these examples will prove to inspire many more similar cases to take place globally. Considering the critical state of the global water cycle and essential sources of water, this is a greatly needed change whose time has come. It is only by safeguarding and protecting fresh water that the incredible natural life on Earth can continue and thrive on this wondrous planet.