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Environmental Juristic Personhood; A voice to the jaw of Environment

1. Introduction
Environment is the holy blessings by God to mankind, where it’s found the secrets of nature. The environment is the mother of all life process where all kinds of living and non-living are nurtured under the dome of holy environment. Whereas, Environmental juristic personhood is the concept which gives the voice to the jaw of Environment, a concept which solemnly stands for the Environment and for its best interest which is directly and indirectly benevolent to the human habitat. Environmental juristic personhood is the eco-centric concept where it says that humans and non-humans both are part of nature and human interest can never supersede over nature. This principle is introduced to safeguard the environment from different facets of humans and non-humans. As per Roscoe pound, “Environment Protection laws like all other laws, ultimately serve social and human interests”. So for the best interest of mankind itself, laws of environmental protection are deliverance for the preservation and conservation.
2. History and derivational concept of Juristic Personhood
The idea of environmental recognition as a legal body came from the scholarly work of Christopher D.Stone, an environmentalist “Should trees have standing? towards legal rights of natural objects” He drew a perspective to create a legal nexus and build a statutory recognition for the rights of the environment.. In referral to this, in the year of 1972, in the case of Sierra Club v. Morton, the idea of the environment as a legal entity came into being for the first time whereas, Justice William O. Douglas has given a remarkable judgement. He proposed that environmental elements to have a locus-standi for their protection and prevention, he also believed that all those people who share a purposeful relationship with any given environmental body should have a locus-standi to protect the environment.
Even today after many years, Justice William O. Douglas‘principle has been brought, discussed and discerned into various judicial pronouncements and legislations. Whenever there are environmental atrocities and treacheries. These advancements are a welcome change to the conventional legal narration that retains anthropocentric view and perception of natural cases and disputes. There are various countries like India, New Zealand, Bolivia, Ecuador who have come up with some jurisdictions with diverse definitions of the environment as a judicial personality and its importance to consider the rationale behind it.
3. India
In India, the concept of juristic personhood is not a very new concept it has been seen and evolved many times through various cases and legislations. In the case of T.N. Godavarman ThirumulpadVs Union of India and Others, the apex court of the country said that as per the recent times and challenges to the environment and to bring environmental justice, there is an absolute need to change the prevalent anthropocentric view to a new eco-centric perspective. Anthropocentrism is very much human-specific concept, which says appraising the nature for the values and its benefits which it gives to the humans. whereas, eco-centric is a nature specific perspective which advocates the appraisement of nature for its inherent worth. There was a Nature Specific judicial argument on the other side which was made in the case of Animal Welfare Board V. A. Nagaraja, where the apex court of the country has said that the Grundnorm, i.e. Constitution of India in its Article 21 right to life could also be extended to non-humans. However, in 2017, the most significant judicial pronouncement concerning Environmental personhood came in the case of Mohammed Salim v. State of Uttarakhand,  which said about the recognition of two rivers, Ganga and Yamuna as a legal person who possesses all legal rights, duties and responsibilities a living person possess. Similarly, in the case of LalitMiglani vs State of Uttarakhand, the court said. “the Glaciers, including Gangotri & Yamunotri, rivers, streams, rivulets, lakes, air, meadows, dales, jungles, forests wetlands, grasslands, springs and waterfalls, are legal entity/legal person/juristic person/juridical person/moral person/artificial person having the status of a legal person, with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person, in order to protect and conserve them.
After that, a similar judgement was passed in the Punjab and Haryana high court in the case of Karnail Singh V. State of Haryana, where the court has given legal entity to the animals of Haryana for their protection and also authorised the state’s person to appear on behalf of animals. Similarly, while responding to a 2009 petition the Punjab and Haryana high court gave the recognition of legal entity with rights of Chandigarh, Sukhna Lake, to save the lake from the anti-environmental approaches by humans.
4. New Zealand
In New Zealand, the Whanganui River has been given the recognition of a legal person by granting the legal personhood with it through Te Awa Tupua Act, 2017.
The great river flows from the mountain to the sea. I am the River, the river is me.
With these words, the Maoi tribes of Whanganui describes the ancestral value of the river and the inherent relationship with the river and its naturalistic prominence to them and the environment.
5. Ecuador
 In the year 2007, one of the biggest things came into being while the election, there was a revolution took place to save nature and in that revolution, the presidential candidate Rafael Corra has come up with the idea of a new constitution under which he proposed a concept called Panchamama (Mother Earth) under which it says that to give the recognition of legal entity to nature, which signifies the “Rights of nature” where it says Panchamama an entity to have rights, to exist, to persist, to maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its process in evolution. Therefore, Ecuador is being the first nation to accept and considerate natural rights in its constitution.
Table 1. Creating legal rights for rivers in Australia, New Zealand, and India.
Legal and institutional attributes
Rivers of Victoria (Australia)
Whanganui River (New Zealand)
Ganges and Yamuna rivers (India)
Legal standing
Right to enter contracts
Right to own property
Other human rights
Legal form
Statutory body corporate (a hybrid of the corporation and a public entity)
Legal entity with the status of a legal person, using a hybrid form (specific interpretation of legal form is dependent on legal context)
Legal entity with the status of a legal minor, with all corresponding rights, duties, and liabilities of a living person
Explicit creation of legal rights for nature
Partial: a combination of legal rights for nature and a recognition of Indigenous worldviews
Natural elements protected
Water rights that can be used to provide environmental flows for rivers and wetlands at particular locations in the state of Victoria
Whanganui River bed from the
mountains to the sea, and its catchment (does not apply to existing rights to water and land held privately)
Ganges and Yamuna rivers (extent and specificity of protection is unclear)
Aims of creation
Political and economic: to create a single voice for decision making about use and trade of environmental water in Victoria
Treaty settlement: settlement under the
Treaty of Waitangi to approximate
Māori teao values in legislation
Environmental and religious: protection of sacred and ecologically valuable objects from environmental degradation
Method of creation
Judicial decision
Legal representative
VEWH (body corporate), with three appointed commissioners
Appointed guardians
Court-appointed guardians
Independence from government
Yes (for decisions about how environmental water is used)
Financial support
Yes (levy)
Yes (dedicated funding)
It can be observed that to protect the environment from anti-environmental approaches, the imposition of juristic personhood has been one of the extreme necessary. Environmental components have always been given legal personhood to preserve nature and its elements through various judicial pronouncements and legislations. Because of climate change, the notion of the environmental personality becomes all the more an absolute and a dire need as environmental regulation around the world to save the mother earth.
6. Conclusion
What god proposed human disposed of in terms of the nature of the world, which has been defeated by the inhumane nature of so-called human being. It has signified a clear message that humans must change their lifestyles. It has become a rat-race of urbanization where the human itself destroys the environment by of his inhumane approaches for the sake of filthy development, it needs only the human to stay away from the intrusion and encroachment into the environment to save the environment. Despite all this, we claim we are a human being with the most intelligent brain and peace-loving superior to all animals. Are we so to our environment?





Aranya Chatterjee is a 2nd-year law student at Bharati Vidyapeeth, New Law College, Pune.




Varun Wahane is a 3rd-year law student at Bharati Vidyapeeth, New Law College, Pune.



In Content Picture Credit: India Today




Kindly note that the views and opinions expressed are of the authors and not of the Indian Journal of Law and Public Policy. 

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