The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the Uttarakhand High Court’s order that had given the Ganga and Yamuna rivers the status of a living entity, granting them the same legal rights as human beings.

On March 20, the High Court had declared River Ganga and its main tributary Yamuna India’s first living entities. As per the new categorisation, anyone polluting the river or harming it anyway can be penalised the way a court can punish someone who hurts a human being.

The Uttarakhand government had challenged the High Court ruling. The plea had questioned whether people affected by the rivers flooding could sue the state’s chief secretary and whether the state would have to bear the eventual financial burden.

As per the order, the chief secretary and advocate general of Uttarakhand were declared the “legal parents” of the rivers.

Both rivers are considered sacred by followers of Hinduism. The Uttarakhand High Court had 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 bench had said.

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 judgement had come days after New Zealand became the first country to declare a river – the Whanganui River – a living entity.

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