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Mother Nature’ a ‘living being’ with legal entity: Madras HC

Published: 7th May, 2022


The Madras High Court in a recent order declared “Mother Nature” a Living Being with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person.


The ruling:

  • Madras High Court invoked the ‘parens patriae jurisdiction’, and declared ‘Mother Nature’ as a ‘living being’ having the status of a legal entity.
  • Justice S. Srimathy observed that the court is hereby declaring ‘Mother Nature’ a ‘living being’ having the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person, in order to preserve and conserve it. 
  • The court observed that ‘Mother Nature’ was accorded the rights akin to fundamental rights, legal rights, constitutional rights for its survival, safety, sustenance and resurgence in order to maintain its status and also to promote its health and well-being. 

Parens patriae Jurisdiction:

  • Parens patriae is Latin for "parent of the people."
  • Under parens patriae, a state or court has a paternal and protective role over its citizens or others subject to its jurisdiction.
  • The doctrine of parens patriae is a doctrine under which a state has third-party standing to bring a lawsuit on behalf of a citizen when the suit implicates a state’s quasi-sovereign interests for the well-being of its citizens.
  • The parens patriae doctrine is also the doctrine in which all orphans, dependent children, and persons deemed incompetent are within the special protection, and under the control of the state.

The 2017 Uttarakhand High Court judgment:

  • The Uttarakhand High Court granted legal rights to the heavily-polluted Yamuna and Ganga rivers in 2017.
  • The court went on to declare all the glaciers, including Gangotri and Yamunotri, rivers, streams, rivulets, lakes, air, meadows, dales, jungles, forests wetlands, grasslands, springs, and waterfalls as living entities.

Other countries with similar judgments:

  • Ecuador: The South American country became the first country in the world in 2008 to ratify a constitutional amendment to include nature’s rights.
  • New Zealand: New Zealand and its native Maori have recognised natural ecosystems as living beings. In 2017, New Zealand granted the Whanganui River the legal rights of a human being.
  • Columbia: Citing the precedent set in New Zealand, the Constitutional Court of Columbia granted legal rights to the Atrato River, near the Panama border.
  • Australia, the United States and Bangladesh are also some other countries that have acknowledged the legal rights to various natural ecosystems.
  • Bangladesh in fact went a step ahead and declared all of the rivers in the country to be alive and entitled to legal rights.

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