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Recognise our rivers as legal entities

Published : Thursday, 23 May, 2024 at 12:00 AM  Count : 895

Recognise our rivers as legal entities

Recognise our rivers as legal entities

Bangladesh is a land of water and its economy vastly depends on rivers. Agriculture, fisheries, and many more activities happened in the river and contributed to the economy of Bangladesh. There are so many rivers in this land that no wonder it has been integral parts of this country and it is not wrong to be said that the rivers are the lifeblood of this country. If we pick any history book about Bangladesh, we will see that the rivers have very large impacts on socio socioeconomic, cultural, and other aspects of Bangladesh.

The rivers are destroyed in many ways. Considering the importance of the river, the High Court of Bangladesh gave a judgment on February 3, 2019, where it declared the river as the legal entity and assigned the National River Protection Commission as its legal guardian. Generally, a legal entity means a distinct thing with legal rights, separate from its owners, capable of contracts and ownership. It is recognition in the eyes of the law that this person or thing has a legal status so if its rights have been violated by anyone it has the power to sue and can claim remedy. The rivers are a very important resource of development for this country but unfortunately, it has been subjected to severe pollution by big industries.

The reason is the owners of these mega industries only care about profit and do not consider whether their way of business harming the environment or not. Their tendency to avoid sustainable development took our rivers in this condition. The current legal framework regarding the environment, especially the protection of rivers has failed miserably the supreme court recognized its promising legal status but the question arises whether is it enough or not. This judgment not only recognized a legal entity but at the same time showed a system of implementing the rights of a river. As river recognized as a legal entity that means it will enjoy similar nature of legal protection as human or other corporation enjoys. The river has now the power to sue someone who caused harm to its beauty and other element. For example, a Company located on the riverside is dumping all its industrial wastes into the river water. Subsequently river lost its natural flow of water, in this case, the river rights have been denied by this company, and considering its status as a legal person river has the power to sue that particular company for being responsible.

The idea of giving legal status to natural things like rivers is not a new thing in the world.  This idea was developed in the United States of America by Professor Christopher D. Stone who first discussed giving rivers and other natural entities legal personhood. Many countries around the world also started to give rivers and other natural entities legal personhood, for example, Our doorstep neighbor India gave the Ganga and Jamuna, the status of legal personhood. On the other side, in New Zealand they also recognized this thing in 2017 by giving legal status to Wanganui River, There are lots of examples of giving legal personhood to rivers and lakes and many countries around the world also started to do the same. From now on, these rivers have the power to sue those people who are responsible for damaging these rivers, for example in the South  American Country of Ecuador a Construction  Company was fined by the court because when they built a bridge within the river, they damaged it severely. There are a handful of cases regarding this relatively new legal phenomenon, and it is a great movement by our judiciary to provide legal personhood to rivers which will help other natural resources to be recognized in the future.

Recognise our rivers as legal entities

Recognise our rivers as legal entities


The rivers got recognition but it needs to be developed in many areas to get the benefits of recognition. Firstly, many stakeholders are connected with rivers and they need to be responsible. Also, they need to do work and contribute from their capability. The government needs to amend a series of legislation regarding the environment that would include rivers and harsh punishment for river offenders. Apart from introducing new laws, they need to be applied properly to create examples and fear among future offenders.  The government can introduce nationwide education and public awareness campaigns to make understand people the importance of rivers for our economy and society. Also, it needs to make them understand that unconsciously they are destroying this magnificent ecosystem of nature quietly and they should refrain from doing it.

Climate change is showing its primary glimpses to us and geopolitical scholars cannot ignore the possibility future world war that can happen for water but not for land. So, it would be foolish for us to wait and see the destruction of river water.  We are also seeing these dystopian visions where water becomes scarce and can destroy an entire region, the sub-Saharan Africa region in Africa where the entire region is suffering from a shortage of water. The people of our country should be grateful that this land has a lot of water. We just need to protect it and use this natural gift wisely. If we fail to do so there will be catastrophic consequences in our entire ecosystem and subsequently every aspect of life. We need to act quickly! Time is ticking!

The writer is an LL.B student at  World University of Bangladesh







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