In a landmark judgement, the Uttarakhand High Court on Monday accorded the status of “living human entities” to the Ganga and Yamuna, two of India’s most sacred rivers.

The order comes on the heels of the March 15 order in New Zealand where river Whanganui became the first in the world to be granted a legal human status.

How prompted the Uttarakhand court order?

The recognition came while the court was hearing a 2014 public interest litigation (PIL) for removing encroachments from the Shakti Canal on the Yamuna in Dehradun district.

Exercising extraordinary jurisdiction vested in the court, a division bench of Justices Rajeev Sharma and Alok Singh said, “The holy rivers Ganga and Yamuna have been declared to be treated as living human entities.”

The court said:

“The Ganga and [the] Yamuna, all their tributaries, streams… are declared as juristic [or] legal persons [or] 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 court in fact cited the example of river Whanganui in New Zealand for the order.

The rivers now have "parents"

The court ordered that the director of 'Namami Gange' project, the chief secretary and the advocate general of Uttarakhand will act as the “legal parents” of the holy rivers and work as the human face to protect, conserve and preserve them and their tributaries.

'Namami Gange' is Modi’s government’s ambitious plan for cleaning and conserving the river.

What does the order mean?

It is for the first time that a court has recognised a non-human as a living entity in India. For instance, animals aren’t considered living entities by law.

The rivers now have a legal identity and all rights laid out in the Constitution of India. The two rivers now have the right to be legally protected. They can also become party to disputes.

As per this Hindustan Times report, the court’s order will allow complaints to be filed in the name of the two rivers, though only through a designated person.