Uttarakhand HC Declares Air, Glaciers, Forests, Springs, Waterfalls Etc. As Legal Persons [Read Judgment]

According to the bench, any person causing any injury and harm, intentionally or unintentionally to the Himalayas, glaciers, rivers, streams, rivulets, lakes, air, meadows, dales, jungles and forests is liable to be proceeded against under the common law, penal laws, environmental laws and other statutory enactments governing the field.

One week after declaring rivers Ganga and Yamuna as legal/juristic persons, the Uttarakhand High Court on Friday declared glaciers, including Gangotri and Yamunotri; rivers, streams, rivulets, lakes, air, meadows, dales, jungles, forests wetlands, grasslands, springs and waterfalls as legal/juristic persons.

A bench of Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Alok Singh observed that past generations handed over Mother Earth to us in its pristine glory and we were morally bound to hand over the same Mother Earth to the next generation.

Explaining the concept of ‘juristic person’, the bench said a juristic person, like any other natural person, is in law also conferred with rights and obligations and is dealt with in accordance with law.

In other words, the entity acts like a natural person, but only through a designated person. For a bigger thrust of socio-political-scientific development, evolution of a fictional personality to be a juristic person becomes inevitable. This may be any entity, living inanimate, objects or things. It may be a religious institution or any such useful unit which may impel the Courts to recognise it,” it said.

The bench held that the Himalayan mountain ranges, glaciers, rivers, streams, rivulets, lakes, jungles, air, forests, meadows, dales, wetlands, grasslands and springs are required to be declared as the legal entity/ legal person/ juristic person/juridical person/ moral person/ artificial person for their survival, safety, sustenance and resurgence.

The bench issued the following directions in the matter:

  1. The Union of India is directed to complete the tender process of 10 crematoriums within eight weeks. Codal formalities for remaining 40 crematoriums be also completed within three months.
  2. We, by invoking our parens patriae jurisdiction, declare glaciers, including Gangotri and Yamunotri; rivers, streams, rivulets, lakes, air, meadows, dales, jungles, forests wetlands, grasslands, springs and waterfalls, legal entity/ legal person/ juristic person/ juridical person/ moral person/ artificial person having the status of a legal person, with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person, in order to preserve and conserve them. They are also accorded the rights akin to fundamental rights/ legal rights.
  3. The Chief Secretary, State of Uttarakhand; Director NAMAMI Gange Project, Mr. Praveen Kumar; Director (NMCG), Mr. Ishwar Singh; Legal Advisor, NAMAMI Gange Project, Advocate General, State of Uttarakhand; Dr Balram K Gupta, Director (Academics), Chandigarh Judicial Academy, and Mr MC Mehta, Senior Advocate, Hon. Supreme Court, are hereby declared persons in loco parentis as the human face to protect, conserve and preserve all the glaciers, including Gangotri and Yamunotri; rivers, streams, rivulets, lakes, air, meadows, dales, jungles, forests wetlands, grasslands, springs and waterfalls in the State of Uttarakhand. These officers are bound to uphold the status of these bodies and also to promote their health and wellbeing.
  4. The Chief Secretary of the State of Uttarakhand is also permitted to co-opt as many as seven public representatives from all the cities, towns and villages of the State of Uttarakhand to give representation to the communities living on the banks of rivers near lakes and glaciers.
  5. The rights of these legal entities shall be equivalent to the rights of human beings and the injury/ harm caused to these bodies shall be treated as harm/ injury caused to the human beings.
  6. There shall be a direction to respondent no.2 to strictly comply by the judgment dated 02.12.2016, and to ensure that industries, hotels, ashrams and other establishments, which are discharging sewage into the rivers, are sealed.
  7. Now, as far direction no.‘A’, issued vide judgment dated 02.12.2016, is concerned, the Union of India is directed to reconcile the constitution of Inter-State Council under Article 263 of the Constitution of India vis-à-vis the Statutory Authority created under Section 3 of the 66 Environment (Protection) Act, by making it Ganga specific, and the decision, to this effect, be taken within six months instead of one month, as undertaken by Mr. Praveen Kumar, Director (NMCG).

Read the Judgment here.

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