Wednesday, January 16, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

SC directs Punjab to complete SYL canal

New Delhi, January 15
Taking exception to the non-completion of Sutlej-Yamuna link (SYL) canal by the Punjab Government, the Supreme Court today directed that it should be completed with in a year from now to augment the water supply to Haryana and Delhi.

In case the Punjab Government failed to accomplish the task with in the stipulated period, the Centre should get the work done through its own agency, the court said.

The directions were issued by a Bench of Mr Justice G.B. Pattanaik and Ms Justice Ruma Pal while decreeing a suit by the Haryana Government seeking directions to the Punjab Government to build the portion of canal falling with in its jurisdiction.

The court said the suit by the Haryana Government against the Punjab Government for not constructing the portion of the canal with in its territory was fully maintainable as it was not by any means an inter-state water dispute, where jurisdiction of the courts was barred.

The Judges passed strictures on the Ravi-Beas Water Tribunal headed by Mr Justice V.B. Eradi for its inaction in deciding several applications seeking directions after it gave its award in 1987.

“Retired Supreme Court Judge heading a tribunal should not remain idle like this,” the court said adding that those clarification applications pending before the tribunal should be disposed of expeditiously.

The court also directed the Centre to fill up one of the vacancies in the three-member tribunal.

The tribunal, which was set up to determine the share of river water between the two states, gave its award in 1987.

Earlier, there was Rajiv Gandhi-Longowal accord on the same issue. According to the accord dated July 24, 1985, the Punjab and Haryana Government were to build SYL canal. As a matter of fact more than Rs 650 crore were spent on the project. More than 90 per cent portion of the canal that fell in Haryana was completed but the 10 per cent portion of the canal falling with in Punjab could not be completed as a result canal could not become functional.

The Haryana Government approached the apex court by filing an original suit under Article 131 of the Constitution. It was alleged that the river water was being allowed to go to Pakistan by the Punjab Government by not completing the portion of the canal falling with in its jurisdiction. UNI


State govt to file review petition
P.P.S. Gill
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, January 15
Acting swiftly on the Supreme Court judgment today directing Punjab to complete the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal within one year, the state government has decided to file a review petition as also a petition challenging both Section 78 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act, Section 14-A of the Inter-State Water Disputes Act and also the award of the Ravi-Beas Tribunal.

The state, informed sources told TNS, had been working on the water dispute issue, hanging fire since the reorganisation in 1966, for quite some time. In fact since 1998, when it had consulted leading legal luminaries and constitutional experts besides its own Advocate-General, Mr H . .Mattewal.

The dispute has a chequered history. A perusal of the official record and chronology of events unfolds the true picture. Punjab, sources asserted, had all along maintained that “justice” should be done as per the recognised international riparian laws. The state had taken the stand that endevour should be to determine the share of Punjab rivers on acknowledged principles of distribution and allocation between the “riparian” states, namely, on the 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.

The brief background of the vexed issue is as follows:

1955: An agreement was entered regarding distribution of water, flow and storage, from the Ravi and Beas, estimated at 15.85 million acre feet (MAF) over and above the actual pre-partition use.

1960: The Indus Waters Treaty was signed between India and Pakistan under which water of the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej were reserved for exclusive use by India after transition period.

1966: Punjab was reorganised. The Reorganisation Act, Section 78, provides for the apportioning of rights and liabilities of the existing state of Punjab among the successor states in relation to the Bhakhra-Nangal project and the Beas project, by agreement entered into by states after consultation with the Centre.

1976: The Centre, on April 24, issued a notification saying out of available 15.2 MAF of the water of the Sutlej, Ravi and Beas, Punjab and Haryana would be allocated 3.5 MAF each.

Punjab was dissatisfied and filed a suit in the Supreme Court challenging the validity of the Section 78 of the Reorganisation Act. Haryana also filed a suit for implementing the Centre’s notification of April 24, 1976.

1981: While the suit was still pending the states concerned reached an agreement on December 31, 1981. It was when Ms Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister and Mr Darbara Singh Chief Minister in Punjab. Then Haryana was also under Congress rule, headed by Mr Bhajan Lal.

As per that agreement, flow series was changed from 1921-45 to 1921-60, resulting in an increase of the available of the Ravi and Beas water from 15.85 MAF to 17.17 MAF. The two states withdrew the suit from the Supreme Court.

1985: The controversy, however, continued to persist even at the time of the Punjab Accord signed between Rajiv Gandhi and Sant Harchand Singh Longowal on July 24, 1985. There was a Clause (9) in the Punjab Settlement pertaining to sharing of river water. It was decided to constitute a Tribunal headed by a Supreme Court judge. The settlement also stipulated completion of the SYL by August 15, 1986.

Pursuant to the Punjab Settlement, the Parliament inserted a new Section in the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956 (Section 14).

1986: Acting under the powers vested in the Centre, as per the new insertion, the Ravi and Beas Water Tribunal, known as the Eradi Tribunal, was constituted. This Tribunal submitted its report on January 30, 1987 and determined the allocation of water as under:


Rajasthan (non-riparian)

Haryana (non-riparian) 3.83
Delhi (non-riparian) 0.20
Punjab (riparian) 5.00
J and K (riparian) 0.65

Punjab was unhappy. It charged that the Tribunal in determining the share had gone beyond the terms of reference and committed “errors of jurisdiction”.

1987: Punjab filed a review application before the Tribunal on August 9, 1987, against the award given by it under Section 5(3) of the Inter-State Water Disputes Act.

Interestingly, that application, seeking review, is still pending before the Tribunal and the Centre, all these years, has also not appointed a member on the Tribunal to complete its composition.

1999: Meanwhile, Haryana filed a suit in the Supreme Court seeking construction of the SYL canal. Though the Court had asked the Centre to intervene between the two states, it did not help. And the judgment that was kept pending was pronounced today directing Punjab to complete the SYL canal within one year.

It is strange the manner in which water was sought to be determined and distributed even among the non-riparian states, right from 1955 onwards, remarked a sources. In fact withdrawal of the suit in 1981 when Congress governed at the Centre and in Punjab and Haryana, was a ‘“blunder” and against the interests of Punjab.

In fact taking the Ravi water into consideration in 1981 was itself a violation of the mandate of Section 7 of the Reorganisation Act, sources added.

The Supreme Court has held in a case that under Section 6 of the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, the centre was duty bound to publish the decision of the Tribunal in the official gazette, whereafter, the decision becomes final and binding on the parties to the dispute. In this case, Punjab’s application seeking review of the award is still pending before the ‘“incomplete’” Eradi Tribunal, since 1987, besides, some additional submissions were also made by the state on March 2, 1998.

In fact all Punjab Chief Ministers are reported to be on record urging the Centre not to gazette the Tribunal award of 1987, fearing political repercussions. In fact as per the new Sub-Section (2) inserted in Section 6 of the Inter-State water Disputes Act, done by the Lok Sabha, the “Decision of the Tribunal, after its publication in the Official Gazette by the Central government under sub-section (1) shall have the same force as on order or decree of the Supreme Court”.

Informed sources pointed out that the Supreme Court in another judgment had held that the “provisions of the Inter-State Water Disputes Act clearly show that apart from its title, the Act is made by Parliament pursuant to the provisions of Article 262 of the Constitution specifically for the adjudication of the disputes between the riparian states with regard to the use, distribution or control of the waters of the Inter-State rivers or river valleys”.

In view of this decision, it was possible , sources said, to argue that section 14 of the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956, which has been inserted pursuant to the Punjab Settlement is ultra vires Article 262 of the Constitution, in as much as it seeks to determine the dispute regarding the shares claimed by Haryana in the Ravi-Beas water qua which Haryana is a non-riparian state and hence this dispute could not be resolved by taking recourse to the provisions of the Water Disputes Act.

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