The bench of Justices Moyeenul Islam Chowdhury and Md Ashraful Kamal that declared rivers as living entity or legal person or juristic person while delivering partial judgment on a writ petition to save Turag river on Wednesday came with this observation on Thursday
The authorities are playing blind-man’s-bluff on the issues of river encroachment and eviction of the illegal grabbers, said the High Court on Thursday asking them to stop such bluff.
The bench of Justices Moyeenul Islam Chowdhury and Md Ashraful Kamal that declared rivers as living entity or legal person or juristic person while delivering partial judgment on a writ petition to save Turag river on Wednesday came with this observation on Thursday.
The HC bench was scheduled to deliver the rest of the judgment on Thursday with a set of important directives to protect all rivers across the country. But the court said that it would announce the directives on Sunday after scrutinizing some aspects so that the directives do not contradict with the statutory institution-- National River Protection Commission (NRPC) or with any existing laws.
The court asked the lawyer of the writ petitioner advocate Manzill Murshid why he did not inform the court during the petition’s hearing that there is a commission for protecting rivers and a law.
The commission was formed in the light of a High Court verdict in 2009 and government has enacted a law under which the commission is working, the court said.
The lawyer replied that the commission is supposed to have authority of disposing off petitions regarding protecting rivers but it does not have the authorities to take action. It can only make some recommendations.
The court said that the rivers are being grabbed by building illegal establishments and the courts are giving orders of demolishing those frequently. After the courts’ order the grabbers are restrained but start grabbing again after a few days. This blind-man’s-buff should be stopped.
If there are rivers, there will be some criminals with the tendency of grabbing them. So, there should be a remedy to this problem. There should be effective and permanent preventive measures, it said.
The court then asked the lawyer to get information about the commission’s jurisdiction, work and authority and inform the court. The court will analyse the information those to set the guidelines of saving the rivers.
The court observed that if the commission acted properly no one would be needed to file such petitions any further. The journalists are like whistle blowers which helps the court to take action against the irregularities.
It said that the journalists should do more investigative reports against the encroachment.
Later Manzill Murshid told reporters that a previous HC verdict moved the government to form the commission for river protection. But the commission has failed to protect rivers from encroachers, as they were not given power of taking action against the grabbers. They only can make some recommendations.
He said that the court now wants to give a set of directives so that action can be taken against any kind of incident of grabbing at any place and the aggrieved persons do not come to the court with petitions anymore.
The court now wants to scrutinize old directives served by the courts, jurisdictions of different authorities on river issues so that the directives do not overlap or make contradictions, he said.
On Wednesday the court started delivering the judgment on a writ petition filed by the Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh. It declared the Turag river will get the status of “legal person” to save it from encroachment and said that the status will be applicable for all rivers across the country.
As a natural person, human beings are protected by a set of constitutional rights and the status for the rivers will accord the rivers with some basic legal rights. This is a landmark ruling in a case that has set the precedence for all rivers in Bangladesh to have a “legal person” status.
The court said that all 450 rivers will have to be protected from illegal grabbing to protect human beings from pollution.
How the status would make a difference
According to lawyer Manzill Murshid ‘legal entity’ means that the rivers will be getting a legal status as of a person. “For example, when a company get status of a legal entity, if aggrieved it can itself become a plaintiff and someone on its behalf can act on it.”
“The rivers now can ask for a remedy from any court for the sake of living, as an example river Buriganga can file a case with a lawyer representing the river in the court. It will be treated like ‘Buriganga has come to the court’, which is similar to a living person,” he said.
The rivers live their lives by their flows and if someone grabs their territory, pollute them, they actually kill the rivers. “There is difference between human being as living entity and river as a living entity. This status just gives the rivers wider opportunity to uphold rivers’ rights,” the lawyer explained to the Dhaka Tribune.
Asked, if the government needs to change any law or enact any new law to provide the rivers living entity status, he said, the idea came to the petitioner’s mind from a landmark verdict of an Indian court of Uttarakhand in 2017 which declared the Yamuna and Ganges rivers living entities and also the Whanganui river, revered by Maori recognized by the New Zealand parliament as a living entity.
“This is totally a new idea for our country and it will be developed in future. Bangladesh does not need to enact any new law now,” he said.
He said, “The HC verdict in our country means that it will facilitate those who work for rivers at the courts, administrations. When river becomes a living entity they can strongly prevent the grabbers or any decisions against the interest of rivers.”
Many people, however, consider that no matter a river is a court declared ‘legal person’ or not, there are already so many laws in hand for the state and its administration to protect the rivers in the country. But often people get away with grabbing and polluting rivers largely due to non-enforcement of laws.
The laws include, among others, the natural water reservoir conservation act and Bangladesh environment conservation act.
Manzill Murshid said that the court will give directives on Sunday clarifying the do’s and don’ts about rivers in the light of the new status of the rivers.