The Uttarakhand government has approached the Supreme Court seeking a stay on a High Court order that had conferred the status of a living person on the Ganga and Yamuna and made three government officials the guardians of the rivers. The state government had hailed the Uttarakhand High Court’s judgment of March 20. However, in a special leave petition before the Supreme Court, the government has said that “the High Court has erred in not considering that the Ganga and Yamuna are inter-state rivers”.
The HC order had said the Namami Gange programme director, the Uttarakhand chief secretary and the Uttarakhand advocate-general would be the rivers’ legal guardians. Their responsibility would be the protection and conservation of the Ganga, Yamuna and their tributaries. The Uttarakhand government’s problems arose on this point.
State chief secretary S Ramaswamy had raised the issue that the officials who were made the guardians of the rivers could be sued in cases, from a suicide committed in a river to people dying in floods. In May, the Uttarakhand Cabinet decided to approach the Supreme Court for a stay on the HC order.
Uttarakhand minister and government spokesperson Madan Kaushik said: “Our government appreciates the High Court order, but how can the Uttarakhand chief secretary be responsible for anything happening to the Ganga and Yamuna in other states (through which the rivers pass)? Does the chief secretary have the authority to ask the Centre or other state governments to follow his instructions?”
It was for this reason that the state had to approach the Supreme Court, Kaushik said, adding that the Centre too had approached the Supreme Court on the matter.
The SLP says that “if there arises any dispute (due to) illegalities being committed in other states, then the Chief Secretary cannot pass any instruction against any other states or Union of India” and “therefore, the state of Uttarakhand cannot declare the river Ganga and Yamuna as a legal person, or living entity”.
Uttarakhand advocate-general S N Babulkar said, “The Ganga is primarily associated with religious beliefs. If the High Court decision is followed, then there could be a petition asking people to stop bathing in the Ganga and dirtying it. Can I or the chief secretary ask for people to stop bathing in the Ganga?”
The Ganga originates in Uttarakhand and crosses UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and Bengal. The Yamuna too originates in Uttarakhand and passes through Himachal, UP, Haryana and Delhi.