India follows New Zealand, grants legal rights to rivers

Ganges river
Indian women perform a ritual at the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers (Getty)

An Indian court has declared the sacred Ganges and Yamuna rivers living entities, giving them the same legal rights as human beings, just a week after New Zealand's Whanganui River was given the legal status of a person.

But it's a move analysts say may do little to protect the Indian rivers, or keep them clean.

In New Zealand, two guardians have been appointed to protect the Whanganui River's interests, making it the first river in the world to be given such rights.

The high court in India's northern Uttarakhand state on Monday said the Ganges and its longest tributary, the Yamuna - both held sacred by millions of Hindus - have the right to be legally protected and not be harmed, and can be parties to disputes.

The court ordered that the two rivers be represented by the chief of the National Mission for Clean Ganga - a government body overseeing projects and conservation of the Ganges - as well as the state's chief secretary and advocate general.

"This will help protect the rivers, as they now have all the constitutional and statutory rights of human beings, including the right to life," said M.C. Pant, a lawyer for the public interest litigation against the state for inaction in clearing encroachments on the banks of the Yamuna.

The Ganges, a transboundary source of water for millions, flows more than 2500km from the Himalayas in northern India through Bangladesh to the Bay of Bengal.

Believed by Indians to have miraculous healing powers, the Ganges is also one of the world's filthiest rivers, with tonnes of raw sewage and industrial waste dumped into it daily.

New Zealand Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson says Whanganui iwi have fought for recognition of its relationship with the river since the 1870s.

The iwi recognises the river, Te Awa Tupua, as part of the living mountains and the sea.

"Te Awa Tupua will have its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person," Mr Finlayson said.

"The approach of granting legal personality to a river is unique."

Mr Finlayson said the river would have the ability to represent itself through human representatives, one appointed by the iwi and one by the Crown.

Newshub. / Reuters