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Ganga and Yamuna are mythical rivers. We all know that. The Uttarakhand High Court on Monday even legally acknowledged that. Well not all of it, actually. Not the godly part of it. The court declared the rivers as “living human entities”.

While the judgement remains open to interpretations and debates, there is no doubt that it was a rather smart move. Lawyers can now bring a case directly on behalf of the rivers in courts. As living entities, both rivers now have some legal rights, possibly not as many as a human being would, but yet a good deal.

However, this is not a unique judgement; this has been done before in other countries as well. The total failure of the two Ganga Action Plans and the imbroglio-stuck further developments indicate a rather dark future for the river. The same is the case with Yamuna. The river is dead for all purposes and despite spending more than Rs 2,000 crore on its cleanliness drive in the past more than two decades, nothing has happened so far. One hopes that the landmark verdict may usher in a new dawn for the two rivers.

The entire high court order came off a PIL filed by advocate Lalit Miglani in December. How has the court taken it forward? It has ordered shut 150 “defaulting” commercial establishments. It has also imposed fines on anybody who’s found defecating, littering or urinating within a distance of 500 m of the rivers.

But why was it necessary to declare rivers as living entities to be able to pass such environment-related orders? It cuts through a lot of red tape, and lawyers can bring up cases on behalf of the rivers itself, instead of having to point out how any action could affect other humans. In short, if it harms the river, it is a crime.

Hopefully, this change in approach will speed up cases involving the river’s pollution.

—By India Legal Bureau

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