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Thursday, March 16, 2017

NZ parliament passes bill recognises Whanganui River as living entity

Rivers are considered holy in India.  A dip in holy Ganges, Godavari, Cauery is considered purificatory and would rid of sins.  Rivers are worshipped as ‘mata’ – and considered as  living entity in ancient scriptures .  Rivers have been the lifeline of Nations and many a civilizations have developed on riverbeds.   If  the rivers dry up a nation may face many problems. Climate change has caused untold miseries and revolts in human societies . Increasing population, industrialization pressure , and waste disposal into river system has made rivers as " drainage " or municipal waste carriers.  Rivers ensured flow of waters and kept waterbodies nearer full and helped irrigation.   

Sacred Ganges in flow at Rshikesh
Rivers bind people to places. That might be counterintuitive but it is precisely through their endless motion and erosion that rivers create long-lasting identities of place. In their path from source to sea, they create borders, sustain lives, or destroy them. A River is not alive in the usually sense of the word which is properly restricted to bonafide "living" systems. Poetically however it is sometimes useful to use a metaphor and think of an inanimate but complex system as being 'alive'. This is useful analogy because some natural systems are very complex and so are living systems. A river is a complex system because it responds to external perturbations (minor upsets) in complex ways.  A river is a geological entity but it also hosts many life forms all of which are interrelated. 

So is river a living entity scientifically and legally ?  Defining life is not an easy, but generally, most biologists would say "no", a river is not alive. Like living things, rivers represent a flow of material, in this case water, through them, just as much of the matter in living organisms flows through them.

The New Zealand parliament passed the bill recognising the Whanganui River, in North Island, as a living entity. Long reverred by New Zealand's Maori people, the river's interests will now be represented by two people. The Maori had been fighting for over 160 years to get this recognition for their river, a minister said.  "I know the initial inclination of some people will say it's pretty strange to give a natural resource a legal personality," said New Zealand's Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson. "But it's no stranger than family trusts, or companies or incorporated societies."

The Whanganui River, New Zealand's third-longest, will be represented by one member from the Maori tribes, known as iwi, and one from the Crown. The recognition allows it to be represented in court proceedings. "The river as a whole is absolutely important to the people who are from the river and live on the river," said MP Adrian Rurawhe, who represents the Maori.  "From a Whanganui viewpoint the wellbeing of the river is directly linked to the wellbeing of the people and so it is really important that's recognised as its own identity."

Members of the Maori community celebrated the news with tears and music in New Zealand's parliament. The settlement brought to an end the country's longest-running litigation, the NZHerald reports. It also included $80m (£65m) in financial redress and $30m (£25m) to a fund to improve the river's health.  Thus the river Whanganui  in New Zealand has become the first in the world to be legally recognised as a living entity and granted the same rights as a human.  It is the world's first natural resource to be given a legal personality.

It is of significant spiritual importance to the tribes who think of the river, mountains and sea as living entities. The river is New Zealand's third-longest and will now be represented by one member from the Maori tribe, known as iwi, and one from the Crown.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

16th Mar 2017

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