During a one week period, the rivers Whanganui in New Zealand, as well as the Ganga and Yamuna of India, were made into legal persons through respective legislative and government decisions, providing them with a chance to sue over certain occurrences such as their pollution.
In the case of the river found in New Zealand, legislation passed by the government showed the river to be a catchment that was obtained by the Treaty of Waitangi as it recognized the interaction between the Maori and the river. The rivers in India are however considered sacred in Hindu religion on the other hand and the action was taken by the Indian government in an effort to reduce pollution.
Nature’s legal rights
Nature’s rights differ from the rights awarded to human beings. The rights given to nature allow the creation of laws and rights that can be enforced allowing nature to be adequately protected by courts of law. This further allows the provision of nature’s rights like having its own property and entering and carrying out contracts. The rights awarded to nature are not beneficial if they are not enforceable.
Enforcing the awarded legal rights
To start, there needs to be a guardian to offer representation. The guardians are thereafter required to be aware of their responsibilities as rights always place a duty as to who will be in charge of upholding them. Funding and technical expertise are required when facing situations where given rights need to be upheld. The final and most important part of enforcement is that one should ensure that the responsible body is independent of factors such as politics.
Challenges are faced by both New Zealand and India in upholding the final enforcement with India’s situation being the worst of the two. India will need to create and develop new organizations to deal with this but New Zealand only needs to slot such functions into existing government systems.
It has taken around 8 years of discussions before for the legislation involving the New Zealand River to be passed. The guardians who have been tasked with looking out for the interests of the river include a government representative as well as one chosen by Maori people. Financial aid has been provided for the protection of the river.
In the case of India, the rivers will have 3 guardians. New boards are to be set within 8 weeks as per the court directives. They will be in charge of maintaining the quality of the river.
Questions have still arisen regarding the responsibilities of the guardians like who would be in charge of making such like organizations accountable. There are also gaps in the legislation as it has not created or transferred proprietary rights of the water. It should, therefore, be noted that such legislation should only be viewed as the beginning to a somewhat lengthy process involving legalities to ensure that legislation, as well as the organization and legal aspects, prove effective and the legislation passed not in vain.
These rivers can be cleaned, rehabilitated and left for the enjoyment of humanity and improvement of nature. So, if you happen to visit New Zealand or India, make a point to drive with a luxury car to these legal ‘person’ – enjoy the sounds and nature.