Political parties in Haryana are armed with the SYL canal tool to score brownie points over one another. Ever since the Supreme Court of India paved the way for sharing river waters between Punjab and other states including Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi, all parties in Haryana have been positioning themselves in a way that they are seen as the real saviour of people’s cause. Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar is upbeat over the development and feels that the people will certainly remember him for his SYL feat.
Congress and the principal opposition party-Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) too are making concerted efforts to retain the space in their fight for waters for SYL canal, which is being seen as a big hope for the state’s farmers in southern districts of the state, where the shortage of water is getting acute day by day. The shortage of water is a major problem in India’s most of agrarian states. Erratic rains and poor facilities for storing rain waters are only adding to farmers’ woes. Even this year drought affected nearly a quarter of the country’s population and left an impact on over 1.5 lakh villages. To be precise, 313 districts, 1,58,205 villages and 4,44,280 dwellings in the country were hit by drought. The inter-linking of rivers is seen a viable option to deal with problems arising out of drought for which there needs to be a national consensus. Some of the states which are adversely hit by drought include Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
In May, the Supreme Court even asked the Centre to create a disaster mitigation fund to tackle drought- like situation. A bench headed by Justice M B Lokur directed the Centre to also implement the provisions of Disaster Management Act and fix a time limit for declaration of drought on scientific grounds. It also asked the Centre to revise the drought management manual to provide effective relief to calamity-hit farmers and prepare a national plan to tackle the crisis. “Agriculture Ministry is directed to hold a meeting within a week with Chief Secretaries of drought-hit Bihar, Gujarat and Haryana to assess the situation,” the bench also comprising Justice N V Ramana had said. The court also directed that the National Disaster Response Force should be trained and equipped to tackle the drought-like situation. Additional Solicitor General P S Narasimha had on April 26 told the bench that the Centre was alive to the situation prevailing in the drought-hit areas. The PIL filed by the NGO had alleged that parts of 12 states of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Haryana and Chhattisgarh were hit by drought and the authorities were not providing adequate relief. The economic loss arising out of drought was pegged at Rs 6,50,000 crore, a study conducted by the industry body Assocham had said.
Does SYL canal offer long-term problem to water woes of Punjab and Haryana? No, not at all. Excessive extraction of ground water has created an alarming situation in Haryana and Punjab. Diversification of agriculture is not being promoted as vigorously as is required. Efforts for promoting rain-water harvesting remain inadequate. As a result, the ground water level is not being recharged. Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar is right to say that SYL canal will change the life of people living in southern part of the state–Faridabad-Mewat- Gurgaon-Mahendragarh-Rewari-Bhiwani area. As of now one would like to keep fingers crossed so of far as the ‘possibility’ of flowing water in SYL canal is concerned notwithstanding the Supreme Court order. People of Haryana’s water stared districts have suffered a lot due to scarcity of water for irrigation and other allied activities. Neither the Centre nor the state’s successive regime could do something meaningful to help them out though visits were made to the countries where scarce water resource is recycled to meet irrigation, industrial and drinking needs. It is true that Haryana’s economic growth is much better than that of Punjab, but Haryana’s economy is largely driven by its locational advantage. Its proximity to the national capital has proved a blessing in disguise for Haryana where a large number of multi-national companies (MNCs) have set up their units.
Last but not the least, politics over SYL canal should be avoided. The real struggle has started now. The execution of Supreme Court verdict should be smooth and violence free. It remains to be seen how politicians from Haryana ensure that nothing untoward takes place in bringing waters to SYL canal. The other day Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to break his silence on the SYL issue and perform ‘Raj dharma’ by prevailing upon the SAD-BJP government in Punjab to complete the canal to give justice to the people of Haryana. “The ball is in Modi’s court ,” Surjewala told reporters here. Predecessors of Modi at the Centre and that of Parkash Singh Badal in Punjab hardly did anything to solve the vexed issue. During the Jat quota agitation, people saw naked display of violence in the state, which left many people dead and injured. Nothing of the sort this time, please!