In March, the Uttarakhand High Court, in an attempt to protect the rivers, considered sacred by millions, had said that the rivers cannot be harmed and should be parties to disputes over them. The High Court ruled in favour of a public interest litigation against the state for inaction in clearing encroachments on the banks of the Yamuna.
The BJP government of the hill state then appealed against that verdict in the top court, stating that it was "unsustainable in law."
The top court has suspended the earlier judgement on the Ganga and its longest tributary, the Yamuna. The state government said that given that the rivers run through different states, it is for the centre to frame policy on protecting them. "There is no dispute that river Ganga and Yamuna and other tributaries in India... support and assist both life and natural resources and the health and well-being of the entire community. (But) only to protect the faith of society, the rivers cannot be declared as legal persons," the government said in the Supreme Court today.
The earlier High Court judgement ordered that the two rivers be represented by the chief of the National Mission for Clean Ganga - a government body overseeing projects and conservation of the Ganga - as well as the state's chief secretary and advocate general.
Earlier this year, New Zealand declared its Whanganui river a living entity and appointed two guardians to protect its interests, making it the first river in the world to be given these rights.