The Gangotri and Yamunotri glaciers, considered sacred by billions of Indians, were declared on Friday as living entities by the Uttarakhand high court, which also granted similar status to virtually every creation of nature in the Himalayan state.
The order came barely a few days after the court granted the same status to the Ganga and Yamuna rivers, which flows out of the two glaciers in the Himalayas.
The status means that the rivers and the glaciers have the right to be legally protected and if anyone harms or pollutes them, the law would view it as no different from harming a person.
Gangotri and Yamunotri are also part of Uttarakhand’s fabled ‘char dham’ – four pilgrimages visited by lakhs of Hindu devotees every year.
Besides the glaciers, Friday’s court order also said “rivers, streams, rivulets, lakes, air, meadows, dales, jungles, forests wetlands, grasslands, springs and waterfalls” in Uttarakhand must be given “corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person, in order to preserve and conserve them”.
“The past generations have handed over the ‘Mother Earth’ to us in its pristine glory and we are morally bound to hand over the same Mother Earth to the next generation,” a two-judge bench of justices Rajeev Sharma and Alok Singh said.
“The very existence of the rivers, forests, lakes, water bodies, air and glaciers is at stake due to global warming, climate change and pollution.”
The court passed the order on a PIL filed by advocate Lalit Miglani and others.
Most of the rivers in India are said to be highly polluted with sewage from urban settlements, farming pesticides and industrial effluents freely flowing into the water despite stringent laws.
The high court’s orders came days after New Zealand declared its Whanganui river a living entity, making it the first river in the world to be given these rights.
The court had referred to the rights given to the Whanganui river, revered by the indigenous Maori people.