Haridwar: In a landmark judgement on Monday, the Uttrakhand High court gave rivers Yamuna and Ganga rights similar to a living person. This new status of "living entity of India" is making environmentalists and locals hopeful about the future. The court's decision is expected to have a positive bearing on efforts to clean up the polluted and abused rivers.
In an effort to understand what the "living entity" status means for the rivers, NDTV travelled from Haridwar to Gangotri.
Dehradun resident Jyoti Prakash Joshi has been visiting Gangotri for over two decades. "I would feel bad watching people bath in sun and soap, and even wash their clothes in the Ganges," says Mr Joshi, claiming to have seen the deteriorating condition of the river.
"I tried to tell them at times, but then they would ask me to mind my own business. I now have the backing of this new judgement by the court when I tell them not to do this," he said as he took a dip in the river, considered a holy ritual.
Gangotri is the last sizeable hamlet before the 16-km trek to Gaumukh, the glacier from where River Bhagirathi orginates. However, except for few temple caretakers and forest department officials posted on duty, the little town was almost deserted.
The Gangotri temple gates will open on April 28, which means most ashrams will be booked henceforth. On days when the temple is open, over 10,000 people arrive in the tiny town. Several signs of new construction including concrete pillars have been put up.
"Many hotels have expanded. Some ashrams don't have proper sewerage connections," says Uttarkashi resident Kesar Singh Panwar, who has filed several cases on river pollution in the National Green Tribunal in Delhi.
When asked about "living entity" status and what it means for the river, he says, "I think this order will help us in securing rights for the Ganges, especially in this fight."
"This judgement has come as a big boost. We will use it to go to the Supreme Court and Parliament and get this done," says Hemant Dhyani, who is a part of Ganga Ahwan - an organisation fighting against big dam projects on the Ganges.
Further downstream from Gangotri, river Ganga continues to inspire Claudio, who came from Switzerland 13 years ago to meditate and build an ashram next to the river.
"The Ganges is what drew me to India. I am not sure what the legal implications of the living status is but I hope it will re-inspire some people who may have gotten busier making money than to help protect it," he says.