Bangladesh court gives Turag, other rivers status of ‘legal person’ to save them from encroachment

In a desperate move to save the rivers of Bangladesh from being encroached upon, the High Court has accorded the Turag the status of ‘legal person’.

Published : 30 Jan 2019, 02:01 PM
Updated : 30 Jan 2019, 05:33 PM

The order will be effective for all rivers in Bangladesh.

A company or other entity which has legal rights and is subject to obligations is ‘legal person’ while ‘natural person’ is a human being, as opposed to a ‘legal person’ created by law.

Wednesday's High Court orders recognised some legal rights of the rivers in Bangladesh.

They will release the rest of the verdict with ‘important instructions’ on saving the rivers on Thursday.

“Illegal grabbers are regularly encroaching on the rivers. The rivers are getting narrow due to the illegal structures. Considering these, the river Turag is declared legal/juristic person,” the court says.  

It also says a failure to save the rivers from encroachment and lack of navigability will surely put Bangladesh and its people at risk.

The river Turag is drastically narrowing down in Tongi due to mushrooming of sand and boulder businesses encroaching upon the river bed.

The High Court started issuing the orders after hearing a writ petition filed by Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh in 2016 following a media report that illegal structures had been constructed by filling up parts of the Turag.

The court in 2017 ordered an investigation to find out whether there are any illegally constructed structures remained on the river after eviction drives.

It had also asked the authorities to make a complete list of all involved in the river-filling. After the list was made, the individuals and firms named in it were included as parties to the case.

In the orders, the High Court said there would have been no need for it to judge the case had the authorities properly followed previous court orders to save the four rivers in Dhaka – Buriganga, Shitalakkhya, Turag, and Balu.

“If these instructions had not been issued, there would have been multi-storey buildings on the Buriganga or housing estate of encroachers on the Turag,” the court said.

Not only the Turag, but 450 rivers flowing through Bangladesh are affected by encroachment, it said. 

“Shall we encourage filing of a thousand cases to save the rivers, which have been livelihoods of tens of millions of people for ages, or shall we issue important instructions, in light of which no cases will come to court for freeing the river from encroachment?” it asked.

Manzill Murshid, the lawyer for the petitioner, told reporters that the court declared the rivers of Bangladesh “juristic person, legal person and above all, living entities”.  

“The rivers’ basic rights like those of humans have been recognised through the orders,” he added. 

He also said the court was going to give a message to ensure that no-one dares encroach or pollute the rivers or hamper their flow, “and above all, to ensure that the rivers remain alive”.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher