A river is now legally a person!

A river in New Zealand has become the first in the world to be legally recognised as a living entity and granted the same rights as a human. The sacred river will be granted all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person after a 170-year battle led by a local Maori tribe known as the Iwi. It is of significant spiritual importance to the tribe who think of the river, mountains and sea as living entities.

The New Zealand parliament passed a bill on Wednesday for the 145km long Whanganui River, which flows from the central North Island to the sea, to be recognised as a person when it comes to the law in the same way a company or a trust is.

The new status of the river means if someone abused or harmed it the law now sees no differentiation between harming the tribe or harming the river because they are one and the same. Two guardians will be appointed to act on behalf of the Whanganui river, one from the crown and one from the Whanganui iwi.

Ecuador is the first country to recognise Rights of Nature in its Constitution. Ecuador rewrote its Constitution in 2007-2008 and it was ratified by referendum by the people of Ecuador in September 2008. A great first step for humanity towards a change of paradigm!

With the enactment of its 2008 Constitution. The Ecuadorian Constitution recognise the inalienable rights of ecosystems to exist and flourish, gives people the authority to petition on the behalf of ecosystems, and requires the government to remedy violations of these rights. The ecosystem itself can be named as the defendant.

The Indian parliament may consider recognising the holy Ganga river legally as a living entity by granting the same rights as a human. We, Indians, revere and worship the Ganga river as our mother. This will not undo the damages caused to the river system in the name of development, but it would definitely act as a deterrent in future.

Legal frameworks are generally people-based in the world. To file an environmental lawsuit requires a person to provide evidence of personal injury. This can be extremely difficult. To provide a conclusive link, say, between a cancer and polluted drinking water is, legally speaking, virtually impossible.

Rights of Nature or granting legal personhood to nature may finally provide balance in legal systems around the world that tend to view nature as only an economic resource for humans.

March 20, 2017

The Uttarakhand high court has recognized the Ganga and the Yamuna as so-called living entities, giving the rivers that have seen years of damage at the hands of humans, a legal voice.

The court also instructed the government to form a Ganga Administration Board for cleaning and better maintenance of the river. The Director, Namami Gange project for cleaning and rejuvenating the river, and the Chief Secretary and the Advocate General of Uttarakhand have been charged to protect, conserve and preserve the rivers and their tributaries.