A court in northern India has granted the same legal rights as a human to the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, considered sacred by nearly a billion Indians.

The Uttaranchal High Court in Uttarakhand state ruled Monday that the two rivers be accorded the status of living human entities, meaning that if anyone harms or pollutes the rivers, the law would view it as no different from harming a person.

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The judges cited the example of New Zealand's Whanganui River, which was declared a living entity by a New Zealand court last week.

The Uttaranchal court appointed three officials to act as legal custodians responsible for conserving and protecting the rivers and their tributaries.

Rampant pollution, deforestation and dumping of sewage have shrunk water levels in many Indian rivers.