In an unexpected turn of events, India’s Supreme Court has ruled that the Ganges and Yamuna rivers are not ‘living entities’, revoking a recent decision by a High Court in Uttarakhand that they are.
When unexpected news broke a mere three months ago that a High Court in Uttarakhand had ruled the Ganges and the Yamuna rivers to be given the status of living entities, it was likened to divine intervention. The decision had been made to save those two rivers from dying, as widespread heavy pollution is running amok, in particular onwards from where each of those rivers meet with ‘civilization’.
However, Uttarakhand’s state government took the ruling to the Supreme Court in New Delhi, arguing that the declaration by the High Court was legally unsustainable and impractical and could lead to complicated legal situations. They even went as far as to say that in case of flooding or drownings, claims against the rivers (living entities) could be made. This hare-brained argument was not disputed and the Supreme Court moved really fast to rule that Ganges and Yamuna are not ‘living entities’. This might prove, in a bizarre way, prophetic – the rivers might soon be dead.
Ganges and Yamuna are the country’s major rivers and considered sacred to Hindus; they are tremendously important for the livelihood of millions of people living along their banks. The pollution in the rivers today are causing constant harm and devastation, resulting particularly in high increase of diseases in those who are forced to use the water for their livelihood.
Modern technology is available to start cleaning up further pollution and the central and local governments must be called upon to pull out all stops to prevent primarily industrial waste and raw sewage pouring unchecked into the rivers. This has been going on for decades and now might have almost reached the point of no return.
Michael Safi, India correspondent for The Guardian, took a journey along the Yamuna river starting at its source in the Himalayas, resulting in the video below.
It depicts the situation along the Yamuna river and makes it abundantly clear that an unacceptable crime against humanity and our living Earth is being committed day by day. The government, who has been aware of the dire situation for years yet continues to drag its feet, has to enforce measures to clean up the rivers and assure vigilant maintenance, especially also ensuring that the filter systems already in place are being serviced and in working order. People necessarily must be educated not to pollute the rivers and all of them must be responsible for honouring and keeping their life source clean.
As far as I know, there is presently only one river that has the legal status of a person – the Whanganui River in New Zealand. Obviously, the New Zealand government is unconcerned about abstract thoughts that the river’s status could be used by people to make any irregular ‘claims’ against it.
The situation in India is not unique. All over the globe, rivers are being abused to various degrees, all the way to their destination, the oceans. And those who take an interest in their environment know about the seemingly unstoppable poisoning of the latter. And just who is responsible? We all are.
Bhagawati is a regular contributor
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