Ganga & Yamuna: Being Human

It must count as one of the fastest adoptions of a legal principle stated in another country. Barely days after the news broke of the Whanganui River in New Zeal and being accorded the legal status of a human being, Justices Rajeev Sharma and Alok Singh of the Uttarakhand High Court extended the same status to the Ganga and Yamuna. The judges mentioned and praised the New Zealand decision as inspiration.

As with the Whanganui, where two guardians were appointed to act on behalf of the river, the judges appointed three officials to act as legal custodians of the rivers and ordered that a management board be set up within three months. With the riparian states of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh conspicuously failing to maintain the rivers, the judges seemed to indicate it was time the rivers took matters in their own hands.

This fits a trend towards a wider expansion of personhood beyond human beings. Sometimes it is being mandated by courts and sometimes just being argued before them with a view to future change. Some are still only thought experiments and some might seem to be just practical rules, yet with potentially wider implications.

How does becoming a person, through a single decision of a court, really change the reality for the Ganges? The pressures on it, of population growth and climate change and industrialisation remain. Few would argue that the states have failed to deal with this, but it's not clear how the Ganga's guardians can do much better. Being a legal person might help in certain ways, like filing cases against polluters, but most of the problems of dealing with real people will remain.

For reasons like this some activists are stepping back from legal personhood, but retaining some of its aspects.

No comments: