Rights of Rivers

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”2560″ alignment=”center”][vc_custom_heading text=”Introduction”][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]The massive onslaught of destructive human activities on our environment across the globe, including but not limited to, rapid forest and wetland depletion, loss of biodiversity, mass extinction of species, contamination of land and water, desertification, climate change, toxic poisoning, and plastic pollution, are all evidences of the fact that something has run amok. The current market economy is based on reckless resource extraction and pollution of natural systems. In March 2020, COVID-19 pandemic illustrated the above destruction more starkly than ever. 

And while we are directly dependent on natural resources for our survival and there is no way for us to separate ourselves from the water we drink, the food we eat, or the air we breathe; nevertheless, we continue to define ‘nature’ as property to be owned and commoditised.

With growing concerns over escalating environmental issues and pollution, the recent times have witnessed several desperate attempts to address these problems. However, most of these efforts fall short of their calling and are nothing more than quick and superficial fixes.

More specifically, our system of law has failed to curb the massive degradation of the environment and consequently has failed to protect the communities which depend on it for their survival. In fact, law has increasingly become a means to sanction environmental destruction, which includes permits for mass deforestation, reckless mining, increasing damming of rivers, and displacement of indigenous communities, thereby resulting in legislations pertaining to environmental clearances acting as nothing more than a convenient façade.

It is unquestionable that we are standing at a critical juncture of re-defining our relationship with nature. The status quo with the rapidly degrading condition of our planet necessitates substantial policy change and immediate action. Among other things, this entails questioning the current legal systems and jurisprudence that prioritises property rights above everything else, does not recognise nature’s intrinsic rights and subordinates community and nature rights to corporate rights. Additionally, along with a serious introspection of the present system and implementation of corrective measures to address the problems we face right now, we also need new ways to imagine law that is rooted in acknowledging and respecting the pluriversal ways of being and Rights of Nature. 

A series of events across the world have signalled the beginnings of a radical shift from an extractive mindset to one where conservation safeguards are being extended to nature. There are many reflections of this, from indigenous peoples’ assertions to govern and conserve their territories to international treaties such as the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, which is legally binding on all signatory nations. In many of these, there are varied expressions of the recognition of the Rights of Nature in formal or non-formal ways. In India, the Uttarakhand High Court in December 2016 and March 2017 ruled that the Indian rivers Ganga and Yamuna, the Gangotri and Yamunotri glaciers, as well as other related parts of nature were ‘juristic/legal person/living entity’ having ‘the status of a legal person, with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person’.i The Supreme Court of India subsequently has stayed the implementation of these orders. Subsequently, in 2018, the same high court ruled that the entire animal kingdom has rights equivalent to that of a living person. Then, as recently as March 2020, the Punjab and Haryana High Court passed an order declaring the Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh city as a living entity, also with rights equivalent to that of a person. 

Several of the above are related to granting rights to rivers or water bodies in various forms. However, there is a dire need to get clarity on what granting rights for rivers would mean. The court judgments in the Indian context have been abrupt, backed with no civil society or peoples’ mobilisation, do not explain the full implications of recognising rights of rivers, and are oblivious to complex governing mechanisms, implementation difficulties, and social repercussions. The grating of rights to the Turag River in Bangladesh is also marred with many issues of implementation. However, some other situations like the New Zealand law on the Whanganui River are much clearer on some of these aspects, based as it is on a century of Maori indigenous peoples’ struggle for recognising their customary beliefs. 

 

Hence, the need emerged to have a dialogue on the rights of rivers in the South Asian context. To explore the following aspects:

  1. To have an open discussion and critical dialogue on granting the rights to the natural entities 
  2. To brainstorm on difficult procedural/implementation issues, and to imagine what could be the future discourse to realise effective rights of rivers in South Asia. 
  3. To deliberate on the next steps ideas for future research, advocacy, grassroots campaigning, and legal action if any
  4. Exploring collaborations across South Asia on ecological grounds

[/vc_column_text][vc_custom_heading text=”Rights of Rivers in South Asia dialogue, March 2020″][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]To move towards some of the listed objectives a dialogue was organised on the Rights for Rivers in South Asia from 6th to 7th March, 2020 in Delhi. It was co-organised by Kalpavriksh, International Rivers and LIFE. The backdrop of the dialogue was to gain clarity and possible opportunities emerging from the Uttarakhand High Court judgement in December 2016 and March 2017 that ruled that the Indian rivers Ganga and Yamuna, the Gangotri and Yamunotri glaciers, as well as other related parts of nature were ‘juristic/legal person/living entity’ having ‘the status of a legal person, with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person’.  Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan have also been witnessing developments for the Rights of Nature. As a collective working on River’s and dependent communities’s issues, it was felt that we need a dialogue among the civil society on what it means for our rivers  and brainstorm on difficult procedural/implementation issues, and to imagine what could be the future discourse to realise effective rights of rivers in South Asia?

The detailed proceedings of the dialogue are attached below. List of participants is also attached.[/vc_column_text][vc_custom_heading text=”Rights of Nature – a timeline”][vc_empty_space][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

 

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  1. Reading circles 
  2. Dialogues with the legal experts 
  3. Dialogues with activists 
  4. Campaigns relating to the recent environmental issues 
  5. Collaborations with other networks

[/vc_column_text][vc_custom_heading text=”Reading resources”][vc_column_text]

  1. Reading circles 
  2. Dialogues with the legal experts 
  3. Dialogues with activists 
  4. Campaigns relating to the recent environmental issues 
  5. Collaborations with other networks

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