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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on March 25th, 2017
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)


India gives Ganges, Yamuna rivers same rights as a human

Nirmala George, Associated Press – Updated 6:32 a.m. ET March 21, 2017

NEW DELHI – Two of India’s most iconic rivers, considered sacred by nearly a billion Hindus in the country, have been given the status of living entities to save them from further harm caused by widespread pollution.

The High Court in the northern state of Uttarakhand ruled Monday that the Ganges and the Yamuna rivers 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.

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 New Zealand’s government last week.

The Uttarakhand court, located in the Himalayan hill-resort town of Nainital, appointed three officials to act as legal custodians responsible for conserving and protecting the two Indian rivers and their tributaries.

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

The case came up in court after officials complained that the governments of Uttarakhand and the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh were not cooperating 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.

Environmental activists say many rivers across India have become dirtier as the country’s economy develops, with city sewage, farming pesticides and industrial effluents freely flowing into waterways despite laws against polluting.

Vimlendu Jha, an environmental activist fighting for more than a decade to clean up the Yamuna, said the court ruling alone would not be enough to stop the degradation of the rivers.

“Merely announcing that it is a living entity will not save the river,” Jha said. “The state government, officials and citizens need to act to clean up the river and stop further pollution.”

“The two rivers have to be fixed, or we will face a huge ecological and health crisis,” Jha warned.

Officials say the Yamuna, one of the main tributaries of the Ganges River, 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.

THEGUARDIAN WRITESCFURTHER:

The case arose after officials complained that the state governments of Uttarakhand and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh were not cooperating with federal government efforts to set up a panel to protect the Ganges.

Himanshu Thakkar, an engineer who coordinates the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, said the practical implications of the decision were not clear.

“There are already 1.5bn litres of untreated sewage entering the river each day, and 500m litres of industrial waste,” he said.

“All of this will become illegal with immediate effect, but you can’t stop the discharge immediately. So how this decision pans out in terms of practical reality is very unclear.”

Indian courts have been critical of three decades of government efforts to clean up the Ganges, a 2,500km waterway named after the Hindu goddess Ganga. The latest cleanup initiative has set 2018 as its deadline, one that water ministry officials have reportedly conceded is unlikely to be met.

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Thakkar said Monday’s decision could be an effort by courts to broaden their scope for intervention in the river’s management. “[The] government has been trying to clean up the river by spending a lot of money, putting in a lot of infrastructure and technology, but they aren’t looking at the governance of the river,” he said.

He gave the example of the Yamuna, which is monitored by 22 sewage treatment plants in Delhi. “But none of them are functioning according to their design in terms of quantity and quality, and we don’t know the reason,” he said.

“You need a simple management system for each of the plants and give independent people the mandate to inspect them, question the officials and have them write daily and quarterly reports so that lessons are actually learned.”

Environmental activists say many rivers in India have become dirtier as the economy has developed, with city sewage, farming pesticides and industrial effluents freely flowing into waterways despite laws against polluting.

The Yamuna is the main tributary of the Ganges that officials say is tainted with sewage and industrial pollution. In some places, the river has stagnated to the point that it no longer supports life. Water from the Yamuna is treated chemically before being supplied to Delhi’s nearly 19 million residents as drinking water.

In New Zealand, the local M?ori iwi, or tribe, of Whanganui in the North Island had fought for the recognition of their river – the third largest in New Zealand – as an ancestor for 140 years.

Last Wednesday, hundreds of tribal representatives wept with joy when their attempt to have their kin awarded legal status as a living entity was passed into law.

“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,” said Gerrard Albert, the lead negotiator for the iwi.

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