Indian authorities are hoping to curb environmental damage by granting Himalayan glaciers, lakes and forests the status of "living entities". The move, which was also applied to two of the country's rivers recently, will see the natural environments recognised as "legal persons".

The ruling means that the 'living entities' will be granted the equivalent rights of human beings. Therefore and injury or harms caused to them will be treated in the sake way as it would as injury or harm to a person.

The Indian Express reported that in its ruling on Friday, the highest court in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand said: "Rivers and lakes have intrinsic right not to be polluted. Polluting and damaging the rivers, forests, lakes, water bodies, air and glaciers will be legally equivalent to harming, hurting and causing injury to person."

The move was said to be in response to the rapid shrinking of glaciers feeding the Yamuna and Ganga rivers, which were given the same status on 20 March. The rivers are considered holy by Hindus, and the move to protect the rivers and the glaciers that feed them was said to be necessary to preserve them.

Justices Rajeev Sharma and Alok Singh said in their ruling: "In over 25 years, it has retreated more than 850 meters [2,800 feet]."

Charged with the protection of the glaciers, the state chief secretary, advocate general, Director of the Namami Gange project – a programme led by India's government to clean up the Ganga – and senior advocate MC Mehta was given in loco parentis responsibilities. The court said their responsibility was: "as the human face to protect, conserve and preserve the glaciers".

In the 66 page order, the judges set out: "The rivers are not just water bodies. These are scientifically and biologically living. Rivers are grasping for breath. We must recognise and bestow Constitutional legal rights to Mother Earth."

The Himalayan glaciers which are large and situated at high altitudes have been the subject of scientific controversy with conflicting reports suggesting they are losing or gaining weight. REUTERS