As the Supreme Court ruling on the Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal controversy has disturbed not only Punjab government and the Opposition but also the state farmers and different other sections for its implication on the state’s economy, DailyPost Assistant Editor Rajay Deep goes through the case files and comes up with an attempt explaining the controversy of water sharing in a straight and simple manner:
Haryana was carved out of old undivided Punjab in 1966 and the issue to give river water to the newly created state emerged since then. As Haryana claimed its right to share river water, Punjab cited Riparian principles while opposing Haryana’s demand of water from Ravi and Beas.
Since the state of Punjab and Haryana could not arrive at any amicable settlement with Punjab claiming it having no water to spare, Government of India by its notification dated March 24, 1976, determined the distribution of waters of Ravi and Beas among the states of Haryana, Punjab and Delhi. The Centre allocated 3.5 MAF water to Haryana out of undivided Punjab’s 7.2 MAF.
As Haryana could not utilise its share without a carrier channel in the Punjab territory, Haryana took up the matter with Punjab in the year 1976 to construct the SYL Canal and deposited Rs one crore in November 1976 and another Rs one crore in March, 1979.
When Punjab failed to take up the construction of SYL Canal in their territory, Haryana filed a suit for implementation of the decision of the Centre on April 13, 1979 in the Supreme Court. Punjab also filed a suit in the apex court on July 11, 1979 challenging the orders of Centre of March, 1976.
During pendency of the suit, in order to enable Haryana have its share waters from the Sutlej and its tributary Beas, a canal linking the Sutlej with the Yamuna, cutting across the state, was planned. On April 8, 1982, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ceremonially dug the ground at Kapoori village in Patiala district for the construction of the 214-km Sutlej-Yamuna Link (or SYL) canal.
As many as 122 km of the canal was to be in Punjab and 92 km in Haryana. A year earlier, Indira Gandhi had negotiated a tripartite agreement between Punjab (where Darbara Singh of the Congress was Chief Minister), Haryana (where Bhajan Lal, who had defected to the Congress from the Janata Party with a number of MLAs, was CM), and Rajasthan (where again the Congress was in power, with Shiv Charan Mathur as CM).
At that time, the available supplies of the Beas and Ravi were recalculated to be 17.17 MAF. Dividing it further between Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, the states were allocated 4.22 MAF, 3.5 MAF and 8.6 MAF, respectively.
In that decision, Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi could get 0.65 MAF and 0.20 MAF, as learnt. The Akali Dal, which was opposed to the agreement, started an agitation known as ‘Kapoori Morcha’ to oppose the construction of the SYL canal.
But since Indira Gandhi’s award failed to see the light of the day and she was assassinated in 1984, her son and successor Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi initiated steps to resolve the inter-state issues and on July 24, 1985 the ‘The Punjab Settlement’ popularly known as the ‘Rajiv Longowal Accord’ was signed at Delhi, agreeing that a tribunal would verify the claims of both Punjab and Haryana on river waters – following which the Akali Dal agreed to withdraw the agitation. The Eradi tribunal headed by Supreme Court Justice V Balakrishna Eradi in 1987 recommended an increase in the shares of Punjab and Haryana to 5 MAF and 3.83 MAF respectively, while taking into account utilisable supplies of surplus water at base stations.
The tribunal’s decision, however, could not be notified.
Punjab was roiled by militancy, and even many Akali leaders were opposed to the deal. Longowal was assassinated in less than a month of signing the accord. In 1985, after Punjab emerged from nearly two years of President’s Rule and Surjit Singh Barnala became Chief Minister, work began on building the canal. The Tribunal was adjourned sine die in April, 1989.
Realising that the progress of construction of SYL Canal in Punjab portion was not going up to the targeted schedule, Haryana took up the matter with Prime Minister and at a meeting on December 16, 1986, it was decided that entire cost of SYL Canal will be borne by the Centre.
But the opposition never died and the state kept exploding periodically in violent incidents. In 1990, a chief engineer and his assistant were killed by militants apparently to protest the construction; 30 labourers working at a project site near Chandigarh had been killed earlier. As the turmoil escalated, Punjab stopped work.
Haryana on November 23, 1990 wrote to Prime Minister to entrust the balance work to some Central Agency like National Hydel Power Corporation, Border Roads Organisation (BRO) or any other suitable agency. As a result, the construction of the canal was decided to be handed over to BRO by Government of India on February 20, 1991 but there could not be any progress. Thereafter the issue was highlighted by Haryana at various levels and fora but the construction activities could not be resumed even though 95 per cent of the work in Punjab portion stood completed up to June, 1990.
Not only that there is uncertainty but a substantial amount of money spent has not been put to any use. The project cost which is being funded by the Centre since December 16, 1986 has escalated from Rs 176 crore in 1983 to an estimated cost of Rs 601 crore (11/94 price index level). The cost is likely to escalate further as an amount of Rs 679.90 crore has been spent in Punjab portion up to September 2001.
As the matter had reached the Supreme Court, it passed an order on January 15, 2002 and directed Punjab government that SYL Canal should be completed within a period of one year. In case state of Punjab fails to accomplish the task within the stipulated period, then the Union Government should get the work done through its own agencies as expeditiously as possible.
Punjab, under the Chief Ministership of Captain Amarinder Singh, then enacted the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004 just two days before the July 15,2004 deadline when the Centre was to take over physical possession of the Canal from Punjab Irrigation Department and hand over the construction to the CPWD for completion of the disputed Canal.
Punjab had all along maintained that “justice” should be done as per the recognized international riparian laws. The state had taken the stand that endeavor should be to determine the share of Punjab rivers on acknowledged principles of distribution and allocation between the “riparian” states, namely, on the basis of the equitable share of each state.
Interestingly, none of the states that have been a party to the unsolved issue is a riparian state, except Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir. The other non-riparian states are Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi.
Now with the Supreme Court order set to disturb the state, the Congress under the leadership of Charanjit Singh Channi, in Punjab Vidhan Sabha this year, moved an adjournment motion on the issue, but the Shiromani Akali Dal pre-empted the move, with Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal himself moving a resolution against sharing any water, and the attempts to force Punjab to build the SYL canal.
The Chief Minister went on announcing that he would consider the decision if comes again Punjab as his “death warrant” and won’t mind making any sacrifice to protect the rights of Punjab. He and his deputy Sukhbir Singh Badal also claimed that they would prefer bullets and jails than the “order against Punjab”.
Now on Thursday, the Supreme Court passed its verdict regarding the controversy saying that Punjab state government’s law to terminate a water sharing agreement with other states as unconstitutional. Reacting to the judgement, Congress MLAs resigned en masse. Party state president also resigned as MLA. Haryana however, is very happy with the Supreme Court decision.
With the developments, politics in state reached to next level as the Punjab Cabinet has now decided to hold a special session on the issue on November 16 and the ruling Akali Dal further stating to hold a massive rally at Moga on December 8 to save Punjab waters. Further, the Aam Aadmi Party is also going to launch “Kapoori Morcha” from Friday itself, stating that both the Congress and Akalis were playing politics on the sensitive issue.
It is pertinent to mention the final verdict from the President of India is yet to come on the subject.
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