Wednesday, July 26, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

SYL — a canal of suffering
By P.P.S. Gill
Tribune News Service

CHANDIGARH: When the monsoon comes, sheets of swirling water leave a trail of death and destruction.

Even as telltale signs of the 1993 floods remain, large tracts have been inundated in Patiala and Sangrur districts. The meandering Ghaggar is at it once again unleashing its fury. It is aided by the incomplete Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal, which acts more of a “drain” for the excess water which flows from the north-east to the south-west than a channel of “hope” for Haryana.

As a permanent “obstruction” in the way of flood waters which have a free run, the SYL canal, in its present crumbling state, is turning out to be a bane for the two states. The plight of the canal is more pathetic than the fight over the sharing of water, thanks to wily politicians of Punjab and Haryana.

The jinxed SYL canal has a 121 km-run in Punjab and 91 km in Haryana. Together, the two states have sunk in nearly Rs 600 crore since the late Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, laid its foundation stone at Kapuri on April 8, 1980. While the Punjab part of the canal remains incomplete, Haryana completed its part in June, 1980.

Following a spate of killings — 30 labourers near Majat in May, 1988, a chief engineer and a superintending engineer in Chandigarh in July, 1990, and two engineers and two contractors repairing the Narwana branch (a canal which delivers water to Haryana) in 1992 — the SYL has remained virtually a canal of woes and worry for the people of the two states, who suffer due to floods. Much of the blame for their suffering must be apportioned to the SYL canal.

What should be done with this “abandoned child”? It cannot be called “illegitimate”. Ask Mr Parkash Singh Badal and Mr Devi Lal. The existing physical structure of the SYL canal should be as much a cause of concern of the two states as the contentious water which never got to flow, except during floods.

A moot question is whether to retain, repair and commission the SYL canal or to dismantle it and save life and property in the two states in times to come?

There are no easy answers to either of the two options given the level to which politicians in the two states have stirred up people’s emotions.

Meanwhile, the SYL canal remains a mute witness and a “living” monument to those who lost their lives constructing it. The canal is a cause of misery to Punjabis living on its left bank. Despite the provision of siphons, aquaducts, super-passages and other cross-drainage works, these openings are inadequate to cope with the water. These are also choked with wild growth. Several of these have silt deposits.

This has damaged the left bank of the SYL canal. The clay-red Ghaggar flood waters and rain water flow into the canal moving to Haryana, which has, understandably, put up steel gates. Nevertheless, the water received by Haryana flows into the Bibipur lake, spread over 6,000 hectares. From there through the Saraswati drain it flows back into the Ghaggar near Khanauri in Sangrur. It moves further down flooding areas around Jakhal. Thus, once floods recede in Punjab, it is the turn of Haryana to have them.

It is the accumulated flood waters and spillovers which wreak havoc in the Sangrur area there the Narwana branch breaches often. This water carrier to Haryana is in dire need of proper repair. But where is the money? Enquiries with Punjab sources revealed that against Rs 266 crore promised at the Deputy Commissioners’ meeting for the current year, the Department of Drainage got just Rs 14 crore for carrying out various river protection works, primarily on the Sutlej, the Beas and the Ravi. But the Ghaggar remains the most wicked of the four. No maintenance funds have been given this year so far.

TNS learns that had the SYL canal been completed and commissioned, the drainage works on its right bank, too, would have been completed. Those structures would have taken care of the rain run-off water and the Ghaggar when in spate. Taming the Ghaggar is no easy task. Moreover, with the commissioning of the SYL canal, Punjab would have set up power houses taking advantage of the falls and got additional electricity.

But the question remains from which point and how much is to be shared between the two seats. Should the sharing be from the Madhopur barrage, near Pathankot, or from the Ropar headworks? In the absence of this happening or the SYL canal being completed, there is every possibility of area left of the canal (between 74 km and 121 km) falling a prey to waterlogging. The design of the SYL canal is such that at places it is in ''deep-cutting" form and at other locations in “filling form”. Thus, it acts either as a “drain” or as an “obstruction”. Moreover, it is designed against the natural country slope.

On the one hand, the existence of the SYL canal in its present form in Punjab has its own disadvantages. It is badly damaged and broken. At several places one can see cracks in the canal lining. It is clogged with boulders, steel structures and wild growth. It will cost a fortune to clear, repair and commission it. Which government will have either the political will or the people’s mandate to do so?

On the other hand, Haryana is deprived of water. It also suffers on account of floods, necessitating the payment of huge sums of money by way of compensation for damage caused. Its investment, too, has gone waste.

No benefit in any form, thus, accrues to either of the two states.

It is the people’s money with which politicians play in each monsoon and flood situation.

Thus, the SYL canal has been pushed into a water grave by the two states with the Centre adding its own weight. If it is retained in an “as-is-where-is” condition, it adds to the woes and miseries of the people; and if it is completed and commissioned, someone pays a much higher price than mere political harakiri in the two states.

Nevertheless, a permanent solution, sans sentiments, has to be found at the earliest in the wider economic interest of the people of the two states. 

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