Legal personhood for the Ganges and glaciers? 'Of Ebbs and Flows: Understanding the Legal Consequences of Granting Personhood to Natural Entities in India' by Stellina Jolly and KS Roshan Menon in (2021) Transnational Environmental Law 1-26 comments
A study of the rights regime for environmental protection in India indicates that such protections overlap with constitutional rights guaranteed primarily to citizens or persons under the law. Contemporary jurisprudence has aggressively developed this intersectionality, declaring natural entities to be living persons with fundamental rights analogous to those of human beings. This article explores the role played by two judgments delivered by the Uttarakhand High Court – Mohammed Salim v State of Uttarakhand and Lalit Miglani v State of Uttarakhand – in the establishment of an effective framework for environmental protection. This is effectuated in both cases by assigning legal personality to rivers and articulating a conceptual shift from the human-centric approach. Accounting for the socio-cultural and spiritual relationships that have received legal protection, this article critically analyzes the judgments, their rationale and contributions to environmental protection. As the judgments articulate a paradigm shift in environmental protection, their effectiveness is best assessed through analyzing the frameworks created for their implementation. While the pronouncement of the Indian courts on the legal personality of rivers is an encouraging paradigm shift in environmental commitment, establishing the rights of nature was undertaken without due attention to the complexities that characterize the Indian socio-politico-religious context and to the legal consequences of bestowing vaguely contoured rights upon natural entities.