The nature’s advocate & recognition of River as Legal Entity in Bangladesh

Repoter : News Room
Published: 22 May, 2024 6:18 pm

Mehedi Hasan Mahin : Bangladesh is a land of water and its economy vastly depends on river. The agriculture, fisheries and many more activities happen in river and contributed in 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 economic, cultural and other aspects of Bangladesh.

The rivers are destroying in many ways. Considering the importance of river, the High court of Bangladesh gave a judgment on February 3, 2019 where it declared river as the legal entity and assigned 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. Its recognition in the eyes of law that this person or thing has legal status so if its rights has been violated by anyone it has power to sue and can claim remedy. The rivers are 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 does not consider whether their way of business harming the environment or not. Their tendency of avoiding sustainable development took our rivers in this condition. Current legal framework regarding the environment, especially protection of rivers has failed miserably but as the supreme court recognized its legal status which is promising but the question arises that is it enough or not. This judgement not just recognized 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 power to sue someone who caused harm to its beauty and other element. For example, a Company located in riverside and it is dumping all its industrial wastes into the rivers water. Subsequently river lost its natural flow of water, in this case the rivers rights has been denied by this company and considering its status as a legal person river has power to sue that particular company for being responsible.

The idea of giving legal status to the natural things like river 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 of giving rivers and others natural entity 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 Ganga and Jamuna, 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 power to sue those people who are responsible for damaging these rivers, for example in 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 cases regarding this relatively new legal phenomenon, and it is great movement by our judiciary of providing legal personhood to rivers which will help others natural resources to be recognized in future.

The rivers got recognition but it needs to be developed in many areas to get the benefits of recognition. Firstly, there are many stakeholders who are connected with rivers and they need to be responsible. Also, they need to do work and contribute from their capability. Government needs to amend a series of legislation regarding the environment that would include rivers and harsh punishment to river offenders. Apart from introducing new laws, it needs to be applied properly to make examples and fear among the future offenders. The government can introduce nationwide education and public awareness campaign 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 rom doing it.

Climate change is showing its primary glimpses to us and geopolitical scholars cannot ignore the possibility of future world war that can happen for water but not for land. So, it will 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.