The Supreme Court on Friday stayed an order by the Uttarakhand high court recognizing the rivers Ganga and Yamuna as living entities.

The stay order was passed on a plea by the state of Uttarakhand, which challenged the directive granting the rivers rights enjoyed by people of the nation.

It was argued by the state government that since the rivers ran through different states, it should be the centre’s prerogative to take such a decision and not a particular state’s.

In March, the Uttarakhand high court had recognized the two rivers as living entities and granted them a legal identity and all the rights laid out in the Constitution. It was the first time that a court in India recognized a non-human as a living entity.

A bench comprising justices Rajiv Sharma and Alok Singh had held that if the state government failed to fulfil its responsibility towards the rivers, the central government should step in.

The court had also directed the centre to constitute the Ganga Management Board within eight weeks to look into the issue of cleaning and maintaining the river.

The court’s recognition had come just days after New Zealand accorded living-entity status to its third largest river, Whanganui, in one of the longest running court cases that the country has seen.

The Ganga, often called India’s lifeline, has significant economic, environmental and cultural value. Originating in the Himalayas and flowing into the Bay of Bengal in the east, it crosses over 2,500km through the plains of northern and eastern India, passing through 29 major cities, 23 small cities and 48 towns.

The river flows through Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal and touches 167 Lok Sabha constituencies. In the 2014 parliamentary polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 90 of these. The party recently won assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Over 1,500 million litres of raw sewage is discharged into the Ganga every day. This joins 500 million litres of industrial waste dumped by more than 700 highly polluting industries located along the river.

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