Living Status to Rivers


Recently, a section of people from Karnataka took out a rally from the birthplace of river Cauvery to Poompuhar in Tamil Nadu, in demand for a living status to the river. With the provision of living status, a river would acquire rights equivalent to that of the human rights. The river would enjoy constitutional rights and at the same time be bound by duties and liabilities. It is not a funny notion or an idea unheard of, as there have been precedents of such status identities being accorded to rivers.

Living Status to Whanganui River

In 2017, the government of New Zealand accorded living status to Wanganui River which is part of the Northern island of New Zealand. It is the third longest river in New Zealand and is worshipped by the Maori tribes of the Northern part.

Believing the river to be their ancestor, the Maoris abhor its commercial use. Like all tribal people, the Maoris also worship nature and consider themselves as a part of nature and never as its owners. As Seattle, the tribal chief says in his famous address to the American intruders, `the land owns them and they do not own it’. Land, water, sky, trees, animals and the environment are revered and worshiped by the tribals. Perceiving the presence of their ancestors in the components of the ecosystem, the tribals consider all elements of nature as living entities.

Rivers in India – Elixirs of life

Facilitating the growth of settlements, the waters of Ganga and Yamuna have been vital for our country.

Even the ancient Indus valley civilization flourished on the banks of the river Sindhu. The Hindus believe God to be omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. They perceive god in all aspects and elements of nature. Believed to be the absolute purifier, even the river Ganga is considered holy. But it’s a pity that the river is being contaminated by industrial pollutants. The river has lost its purity owing to the harmful discharge from the tanneries. Even the fate of Yamuna seems to be sealed.

Ganga Cleaning Mission, Swaccha Bharath Abhiyaan and many other efforts by volunteer groups have failed to curb the mindless polluting. In 2017, in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, the High Court accorded the status of living entities to the rivers Ganga and Yamuna. In the same year the Supreme Court squashed the order of the lower court and the rivers lost their newly conferred identities.

But the impending question is whether a river could be penalized for the destruction caused during times of deluge. Due to the dilemma in the manner of dealing the devastating nature of rivers during floods, some people have argued against the conferring of such a status. Should the damage to property and lives be considered in the light of the living status of the rivers? It is not possible to consider them as acts of crime, equivalent to those committed by humans. Some opine that the act of according legal rights to the river has become indispensable, as human beings have neglected the rights of other stakeholders in the ecosystem,-: the fish, birds, plants and the surroundings. This move would definitely bring about a change in the attitude of the avaricious, money-minded and profit-oriented industrialists.

They cannot just discharge the wastes of factories, tanneries and sewage into the life sources and exploit the rights of the other elements of nature.

River Cauvery- The lifeline

River Cauvery takes birth in the Western Ghats of Karnataka and is the life line of both the people of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The disputed sharing of the river water has caused a rift between the states, threatening the harmony of the federal structure of democracy. Lives have been lost and several major protests have been led by both the states, in claim of their share of water. The Cauvery River is worshipped as Goddess Cauvery Amma, the divine mother by the people of Coorg (the birthplace of the river) in Karnataka. For the people of Karnataka she is as sacred as the revered Ganga.

At Talacauvery, the birth place of Cauvery, thousands of pilgrims congregate every year to take a holy dip in it. But as it flows down along its course, it gets murkier and muddier, owing to the effluents from factories. Both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have built dams across the bounteous river and farmers have immensely benefitted from it.

The arguments regarding the accord of the living status to rivers has underlined the undisputed need for proper maintenance of fresh water bodies.We should address the pressing need of inculcating a sense of social responsibility among the citizens of India. It is high time for us to change our attitude towards our environment. Let’s strive towards making the world a better place to live in.

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