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Haryana can strengthen Ghaggar bundh, rules SC
Punjab’s stand on Hansi-Butana canal wall rejected
R Sedhuraman
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, September 23
The Supreme Court today allowed Haryana to go ahead with strengthening the Ghaggar bundh by raising a toe wall and putting a concrete lining in order to protect its residents from floods. The court rejected Punjab’s contention that the strengthening work would prevent the natural flow of rainwater and thus worsen the flood situation in its territory.

“The bundh was constructed at a time when the state of Haryana was not carved out. The state of Haryana has a duty to protect the lives and property of the citizens residing within its territory and a right to carry out the work within its territory to protect its people,” a Bench comprising Justices JM Panchal and HL Gokhale ruled.

Punjab’s stand “is not correct because the Ghaggar bundh was constructed by the erstwhile state of Punjab in 1950s for the purpose of preventing flood waters from entering and submerging (its own) areas to the south of the bundh,” which had now become part of Haryana, the Bench noted.

Haryana “is entitled to protect its inhabitants from floods just as erstwhile state of Punjab was entitled to protect its inhabitants to the south of the bundh”, the Bench noted.

The bundh was constructed neither to guide the course of the Ghaggar nor was it designed to be “deliberately weak enough” to give way during heavy floods, as was argued by Punjab, the SC pointed out.

“It was constructed to hold back water in the heaviest of floods and to prevent flood waters from submerging villages to the south,” the apex court held.

“The state of Haryana is only ensuring that after the two disastrous breaches of 1993 and 2010, a breach does not occur in future. This court is of the opinion that the state of Punjab cannot reasonably object to this course of action,” it said.

The SC said it was not convinced by Punjab’s hypothesis that preventing the bundh from breaching would cause flooding of its 70 villages. Of the 15 villages affected in the July 2010 floods, 11 were situated far off the bundh and were nearer to the Patiala Nadi, it pointed out.

On the other hand, it was clear that the flooding of 19 Haryana villages “is clearly attributable to the overflowing waters of the Ghaggar as well as water flowing through the breach”, it said.

Both the 3.5-km concrete toe wall and the concrete lining on the outer slope of the bundh had only “one object, ie to prevent a breach in the bundh”. The toe wall would prevent seepage below ground and also prevent the weakening of the base of the bundh, while the concrete lining would enable it to withstand the pressure of flood water, the SC said.

Punjab had raised objections to the strengthening work through an interlocutory application (IA) in the case arising from its original suit (1/2007). It has opposed Haryana’s proposal of taking its share of Ravi-Beas waters from the Bhakra Main Line (BML) through the newly constructed Hansi-Butana canal. Through an order, the SC has restrained Haryana from puncturing the BML for linking it to the canal. At a place, the Hansi-Butana canal and the Ghaggar bundh share a common wall on one side and hence the dispute: Whether it forms part of the canal on which the SC status quo is applicable.

The Bench said it would consider whether the original suit should be referred to the Inter-State River Water Disputes Tribunal.

If Punjab’s objection to the work on the bundh was accepted, Haryana would “suffer greater loss and irreparable injury”. Also, it “cannot as well be denied that the state of Haryana has the right to carry out the necessary work in its territory and also the duty to its citizens”.

In the 18-page order, the Bench regretted that although both the states had canvassed the principle of inter-state cooperation, “yet there is this unfortunate controversy”. It also pointed out that the Central Government did not take “any stand whatsoever” on the issue, although Additional Solicitor-General Mohan Jain had submitted a “brief note” on the assessment made by the Central Water Commission. 

The Ruling

The state of Haryana is only ensuring that after the two disastrous breaches of 1993 and 2010, a breach does not occur in future. This court is of the opinion that the state of Punjab cannot reasonably object to this course of action. — SC Bench

Badal WeighS Legal Options

Chandigarh: The row over the Hansi Butana canal toe wall between Punjab and Haryana is headed towards a showdown with CM Parkash Singh Badal promising to explore all legal avenues, even as the SAD prepares to highlight the ‘injustice’ done to the people of Punjab. The state was in the process of eliciting the opinion of legal experts and would act accordingly. Official sources claimed that this could take the form of a revision petition. — TNS





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