The Uttarakhand High Court on Monday declared River Ganga India’s first living entity. The status gives the Ganga – one of India’s largest rivers – the same legal rights as a human being, ANI reported. As per the new categorisation, anyone polluting the river or harming it anyway can be penalised the way a court can punish someone hurting a human being.

The river is considered sacred by followers of Hinduism. The high court has also asked the Centre to form a Ganga Administration Board to ensure that the river is cleaned. “The Ganga should be saved for generations to come,” the court observed.

Earlier in March, the court had criticised the central and state governments for doing “nothing concrete” to clean the river. It rebuked state governments for wasting resources on reviving the “lost River Saraswati” instead of prioritising the Ganga.

In February, the National Green Tribunal had criticised the Centre for “wasting public money” in the name of the Namami Gange Project. “Not a single drop of River Ganga has been cleaned so far,” the tribunal had told the government.

The ruling comes days after New Zealand became the first country to declare a river – the Whanganui River – a living entity.

The executive committee of the Centre’s National Mission for Clean Ganga had recently cleared 20 projects – 13 of which are in Uttarakhand – worth Rs 1,900 crore to be immediately implemented in Uttarakhand, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.