Uttarakhand High Court declares air, jungles, glaciers, waterfalls as living entities

The Uttarakhand High Court said any harm caused to these bodies shall be treated as being caused to the human beings

The Uttarakhand High Court, which recently accorded the status of “living human entities” to the Ganga and Yamuna river, extended the order to include a wide range of natural entities within the ambit of a “juristic (non-living) person”. A division bench of Justices Rajiv Sharma and Alok Singh of the High Court declared all the glaciers, including Gangotri and Yamunotri, rivers, streams, rivulets, lakes, air, meadows, dales, jungles, forests wetlands, grasslands, springs and waterfalls as living entities. Following the order these will have some legal rights on a living person.

The Court laid special attention towards Gangotri and Yamnotri glaciers, saying, “Gangotri is one of the largest glaciers in the Himalyas. However, it is receding fast. In over 25 years, it has retreated more than 850 meters. Yamunotri Glacier is also receding at an alarming rate. Glacial Ice is the largest reservoir of fresh water on earth.” It directed that all corresponding rights, duties, liabilities and rights akin to fundamental and legal rights of a living person be conferred on the aforementioned, so as to preserve and conserve them.

Any harm caused to these bodies shall be treated as being caused to the human beings, the Court said. Clarifying the concept, the Court said that a “Juristic Person” are created and devised by human laws for the purposes of society and government. A juristic person can be any subject matter other than a human being to which the law attributes personality for good and sufficient reasons.

The Court directed that the Chief Secretary, Uttarakhand, the Director of NAMAMI Gange Project, Praveen Kumar, Director of National Mission to Cleanse Ganga (NMCG), Ishwar Singh, Legal Advisor, NAMAMI Gange Project, the Advocate General of Uttarakhand, Balram K Gupta, Director, Academics, Chandigarh Judicial Academy and M C Mehta, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court, act as the legal guardians or human face of the newly “humanised entities”.

Keeping in mind the rights of communities living near the lakes, glaciers and the banks of rivers, the Court permitted the Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand to co-opt seven public representatives from the state to give representation to such communities. The Court further ordered completing tender process of 10 crematoriums within eight weeks and complete codal formalities of 40 more in towns on the bank’s of river Ganga.

The Court reiterated its order to shut down industries, hotels and ashrams discharging sewage into the Ganges. The Court reminded the Union of India of its direction for the constitution of an Inter-State Council so as to create a Ganga-Specific Statutory Authority within six months. The Court took time to appreciate the release of a sum of Rs 862.00 crores by the Centre towards the maintenance of the Ganges.

The Court placed on record its appreciation of the concern shown by Uma Bharti, Minister, Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation and others for their untiring efforts to save the Ganga in particular and environment in general. The court said the New Zealand Parliament has recently enacted ‘Te Urewera Act 2014’ whereby the ‘Urewera National Park’ has been given the status of a legal entity.