“Sukhna Lake becomes a ‘living entity’”

  • Category
    Ecology and Environment
  • Published
    11th Mar, 2020

Context

The Punjab and Haryana high court has declared Sukhna Lake a “living entity” or “legal person” with rights, duties and liabilities of a living person. It also declared all citizens of Chandigarh as loco parentis (in the place of a parent) to save the lake from extinction.

About

  • Sukhna Lake is situated at the foothill of Shivalik Hills in the city of Chandigarh. The famous Rock Garden of Chandigarh is located on the banks of this lake.
  • The Lake was created in 1958, by damming a seasonal stream Sukhna Choe, which cascade from the Shivalik Hills.
  • Sukhna Reservoir was also designed by Le Corbusier (Chief Architect of Chandigarh city) and the Chief Engineer P L Verma in the year 1974.
  • Several migratory birds like cranes, Siberian ducks, storks etc., can be seen during the season.

The decision:

  • Sukhna Lake has been declared a legal entity/legal person/juristic person/ juridicial person/moral person/artificial person with distinct persona with corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person
  • The court observed that Sukhna Lake is required to be declared as a legal entity for its survival, preservation and conservation.
  • The Chandigarh administration has been directed to declare it a wetland within a period of three months.
  • The HC also ordered that all structures in Sukhna’s catchment area (which was demarcated by the Survey of India in 2004) should be demolished, and affected owners whose building plans have been approved should be relocated in the vicinity of Chandigarh and they should be compensated with ?25 lakh each.

Similar examples:

  • In 2008, Ecuadorbecame the first country to enshrine the legal rights of nature in its constitution. 
  • Boliviapassed a similar law in 2011.
  • Meanwhile, New Zealandin 2017 became the first country to grant the Whanganui river legal rights, followed by the Indian state of Uttarakhand, when it declared the Yamuna and Ganges rivers "living entities" (a verdict that was later stayed by the Supreme Court).
  • El Salvador recognized its forests as living entities and stated that each person must commit to caring for, preserving, and respecting forests. 
  • In 2019, the city of Toledo, Ohio, passed what is known as the Lake Erie Bill of Rightsto protect its shores, making it one of several U.S. communities to have passed legislation recognizing the rights of nature.
  • In July 2019, Bangladesh became the first country to grant all of its rivers the same legal status as humans. 

What does being “living entity” means?

  • Rights are the obligations that society and state have for establishing sustainable relationships.
  • With this ruling, Sukhna Lake is no more voiceless water body, but “person” with legal rights.
  • As “juristic person”, the lake, have a right to be legally protected from any kind of harm or destruction.
  • Polluting it, henceforth, could entitle to human rights violation for which it can take legal recourse.
  • From now, the lake can be a party to disputes and rights violation, represented by court-appointed individuals who can file and contest cases on its behalf.

Over the last few years, various environmentalists, social leaders have called for recognizing rights of nature in the country. Now, it is hoped that such examples and recognitions can inspire many other countries to take similar actions.

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