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23 Asia Pac. J. Envtl. L. 160 (2020)
Legal Rights for the Turag: Rivers as Living Entities in Bangladesh

handle is hein.journals/apjel23 and id is 160 raw text is: 

Asia Pacific Journal of Environmental Law, Vol. 23 No. 2, 2020, pp. 160-177

Legal rights for the Turag: rivers as living

entities in Bangladesh

Mohammad Sohidul Islam*
Melbourne Law School, The University of Melbourne

Erin  O'Donnell
Melbourne Law School, The University of Melbourne

In 2019, Bangladesh joined the ever-growing list of countries to recognize rivers as living
entities with legal rights. The Bangladesh Rivers case is another example of advocacy
from the Supreme  Court in Bangladesh, and the article explores the relationship between
the executive and the judiciary, and the ongoing role the judiciary has played in water law
reform. The Court based its decision on a novel reading of the Constitution, linking the
legal rights of the rivers to the public trust doctrine and the human right to a healthy envir-
onment. This foundation is itself potentially controversial, and the new legal status of the
rivers may set their interests against those of the people who live along and rely upon
them. By  making  comparisons  between this case and similar decisions in India and
Colombia,  the Bangladesh Rivers case can be seen as part of the transnational movement
to grant legal rights to rivers.

Keywords:  judiciary, constitution, rivers, living entities, legal rights, legal person, public
trust doctrine, human right to environment


On  3 February 2019, the Turag River in Bangladesh was recognized as a living entity and
a legal person by the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh.' This
decision was a first for Bangladesh, but follows a transnational line of judicial decisions
granting legal personhood to rivers from across India2 and Colombia.3 In July 2019, the
Court  released a statement of the full reasons behind this historic judgment, which

*    Part of this work was funded through the Melbourne Law School Early Career Fellowship
and Melbourne  Research Scholarship (2017-2020). The authors gratefully acknowledge the
feedback from the anonymous reviewers, and informal conversations with members of the judi-
ciary in Bangladesh.
1.   Human  Rights and Peace for Bangladesh v Government of Bangladesh and others [2016]
HCD   (Writ Petition No. 13989 of 2016, judgement declared on 3 February 2019, translation
from Bangla by MS  Islam, henceforth referred to as the 'Bangladesh Rivers case').
2.   Erin O'Donnell, 'At the Intersection of the Sacred and the Legal: Rights for Nature in
Uttarakhand, India' (2018) 30 Journal of Environmental Law 135, 135.
3.   Elizabeth Macpherson and Felipe Clavijo Ospina, 'The Pluralism of River Rights in
Aotearoa New  Zealand and Colombia' (2018) 25 Journal of Water Law 283, 290; Elizabeth
Macpherson,  Indigenous Water Rights in Law and Regulation: Lessons from Comparative
Experience (Cambridge University Press, 2019), 145.

© 2020 The Author                          Journal compilation © 2020 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
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