Ganga and Yamuna, sanctifying rivers accorded living status

Michael Safi and agencies, report the following in the ‘The Guardian’ on Tuesday, 21 March 2017 under the caption “Ganges and Yamuna rivers granted same legal rights as human beings”( world/2017/mar/21/ganges-and yamuna/)– The Ganges river, considered sacred by more than 1 billion Indians, has become the first non- human entity in India to be granted the same legal rights as people.

A court in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand ordered on Monday that the Ganges and its main tributary, the Yamuna, be accorded the status of living human entities. The decision, which was welcomed by environmentalists, means that polluting or damaging the rivers will be legally equivalent to harming a person.

The judges cited the example of the Whanganui river, revered by the indigenous Mâori people, which was declared a living entity with full legal rights by the New Zealand government last week. Judges Rajeev Sharma and Alok Singh said the Ganges and Yamuna rivers and their tributaries would be “legal and living entities having the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities”. The court in the Himalayan resort town of Nainital appointed three officials to act as legal custodians responsible for conserving and protecting the rivers and their tributaries. It ordered that a management board be established within three months.

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.

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.

1. Considering the average discharge, river Ganga has been the third largest on our planet earth. Over years of neglect the situation is assuming alarming proportions. “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” – so says Michael Safi, reporter of this news.

In the Ramayana we find the observations made by Maharshi Valmiki the first poet of the Adi Kavya, thus :–

(Valmiki Ramayanam, 125th Sarga,

Shloka- 21-22).

Lord Hanuman traversed the route of his mighty father – Pavan which is the beautiful abode of King of the birds Garuda, crossed the vast Sangam of Ganga and Yamuna rivers to reach Sringaverpur and inform the Nishad King Guha in sweetest words. The 2,500km long river Ganga originates from Gangotri in Uttarakhand and passes through several states before emptying into the Bay of Bengal.

2. The soul entrancing river Ganga and the Yamuna are associated with the soul enchanting Leelas of Sri Ramachandra and Lord Sri Krishna and find mention in all holy Hindu scriptures. With the erosion of Dharmic values in the society as a result of denationalizing and distorted Macaulian education and sheer neglect and apathy of successive anti –Hindu so called secular governments the sacred rivers have in several places turned into stinking gutters. The Namami Gange program adopted by the present Central Government can fructify only through the active participation of all concerned including users, environmentalists, industrialists, scientists, politicians and social leaders etc.

Some suggestions have been made to reign in the disciplinary and executive authorities which deserve attention.

3. The court stated: “the Rivers Ganga and Yamuna, all their tributaries, streams, every natural water flowing with flow continuously or intermittently of these rivers, are declared as juristic/legal persons/living entities having the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person in order to preserve and conserve river Ganga and Yamuna. The Director NAMAMI Gange, the Chief Secretary of the State of Uttarakhand and the Advocate General of the State of Uttarakhand are hereby declared persons in loco parentis as the human face to protect, conserve and preserve Rivers Ganga and Yamuna and their tributaries.”

A Juristic person: “A juristic person, like any other natural person is in law also conferred with rights and obligations and is dealt with, in accordance with law. In other words, the entity acts like a natural person but only through a designated person, as their Lordships have held in the judgments cited here in above that for a bigger thrust of socio-political-scientific development, evolution of a fictional personality to be a juristic person becomes inevitable. This may be any entity, living inanimate, objects or things. It may be a religious institution or any such useful unit which may impel the Courts to recognise it”. (Courtesy:

4. The court suggests that the entity acts like a natural person – but only through a designated individual, loco parentis, which means “in the place of a parent”. It is like as the minors enjoy their legal rights through their parents. The court represented the Ganga as a child. Certainly this was purposeful, because we still possess a weakness for our children in our selfish hearts. But, as per present level of mistreatment, more befitting analogy for mother Ganga would be the example of a senile mother, whose waylaid adult son has robbed off all sorts of comforts she once  had, and still trying to suck out more benefits from her fragile physical frame, till her death.

The Ganga flows through Uttarakhand, UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. These five different states have different rules and regulations when it came to maintaining the river.New Zealand has transferred the ownership of the river to its guardian. India cannot transfer the ownership of Ganga to any state. But, akin to this, a uniform set of regulation is needed to be brought about– to penalize offenders in a coordinated way. One single dedicated court equivalent to the status of high court should be set up at one single place which would try all the cases of harmful activities against the Ganga and Yamuna rivers and will deliver speedy justice to wrongdoers. The guardians of the river must be allocated with sufficient budget (read money) and expertise to run a successful legal case. They will need some form of legislative independence from state and national governments, as many of its actions will be politically controversial.

The body which will punish the offenders must be defined clearly. There must be enough power bestowed upon the action takers so that the court’s orders are implemented with sufficient force. For this purpose, after being passed by the central and five state governments, a set of new laws is required to come into effect.

One can clearly see it would be a very far placed target. Certainly it will take time. But, New Zealand took eight years for this. It will be pertinent to mention the initiatives taken by the Indian authorities in this context:

• The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged to restore the Ganges to its former glory.

• In this month of March itself, the Centre cleared 20 projects worth Rs 1,900 crore for Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Delhi under the Clean Ganga campaign.

Of these 20 projects, 13 are in Uttarakhand and will involve setting sewage treatment plants and upgrading the existing ones. Union water resources minister Uma Bharti introduced the Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2017 in the Lok Sabha that would pave the way for the setting up of a single standing tribunal to resolve water related disputes between states and called it a “revolutionary step”. As of now, there are multiple tribunals that more often than not end up delaying the process of dispute resolution.

5. Five main industries — distillery, sugar, pulp and paper, tannery and textile–contribute 90% of inorganic load into the river system.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has recently identified 1,000 of these polluting industries. The Union water resources ministry under the Namami Gange programme has started a special drive to inspect them to find out if they are complying with the norms for treating industrial effluents before releasing them into the river. Strong penalties and impartial administrative functioning can lend credence to the said efforts.

It is estimated that 1.5bn litres of untreated sewage enters the river every day, along with 500m litres of industrial waste. All will become illegal with immediate effect, but one can’t stop the discharge instantaneously, is the prevailing public view. The statutory rules for the establishment of factories envisage that a system to neutralize the effluent pollutants generated in the process should be always in place (The expenditure to implement these sustainably is usually very high and hence often bypassed or neglected). These rules have been followed more in breach than in observance. This nexus between the inspectors and industrialists need to be sapped.

The 500 m litres of industrial waste generated in the factories provides livelihoods to hundreds of families which may hinder imposing strong corrective measures.

Earlier initiatives through solid waste management, and other associated projects to top river pollution mostly remained on paper. The present Government has launched a massive program at the national level and the “Namami Gange” project has made an auspicious but slow beginning. A streamlined, time bound, responsibility oriented and holistic scientific approach in full cooperation of local government alongwith mid course evaluation for corrective intervention as proposed above may help, solve concurrently emerging problems with quick redress.

Vishnu padodbhava GangaBrahma bari and Sankatnashini Yamuna are the gift of divine  onsciousness to protect humanity with all its creation from the ill effects of material malice, passion and prejudice.

Source: “Truth” Dated 16-06-2017 Vol:85 Issue:9 published by Shastra Dharma Prachar Sabha, 91, Chowringhee Road,Kolkata -700020

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