Thursday, January 9, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


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All-party meeting backs Amarinder
Calls for special Assembly session
P.P.S. Gill
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, January 8
Despite the boycott by the SAD and its ally, the BJP, the all-party meeting today backed Capt Amarinder Singh to defend Punjab’s riparian interests vis-a-vis sharing of water or construction/completion of the SYL canal as per the Supreme Court’s directive.

The representatives of political parties, farmers’ organisations, social and economic groups unanimously resolved to approach the Supreme Court for absolving Punjab of its direction on construction/completion of the SYL canal, appeal to the Prime Minister to intervene, fully support Capt Amarinder Singh in taking all necessary steps in the interest of sharing of the Ravi-Beas waters and achieve the above objectives.

The meeting also resolved that a special session of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha should be convened at the earliest to ratify these resolutions, presented by minister Partap Singh Bajwa.

The meeting, which lasted nearly four hours, saw 25-odd speakers often go off at a tangent to engage in Akali-bashing, particularly, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, for staying away from the meeting. They also blamed Congress and Akali leaders for pushing Punjab into controversies for their own narrow, vested political interests. The SAD President was repeatedly charged with siding with Haryana because of his properties there and equation with Mr Chautala. Some speakers said Mr Badal invariably betrayed the interests of Punjab.

On the face of it, today’s meeting may not have achieved much but it has provided the much-needed political life-jacket to the Chief Minister to enable him swim through the water crisis. The speeches, laced with emotions and political rhetoric, contained enough vitriol to set afire the river waters and scar the Congress-Akali brand of politics.

While some speakers said though the convening of the meeting was a belated step, it was a welcome gesture. They hoped Capt Amarinder Singh would consult the Opposition more often on other crucial issues requiring political consensus. They reiterated the concerns voiced by the Chief Minister in his invitation letter, which, inter alia, said: ‘’This issue has very serious economic, political and social implications’’.

A brief backgrounder to the water sharing problems that have evolved over the decades and the chronology of past agreements/awards was also given to the participants, besides the proposed approach to clinch the issue.

There was one common denominator in what the Chief Minister, PPCC President H.S. Hanspal and the participants said — Punjab must pursue its case right from the beginning following and fighting it ‘’logically, legally, constitutionally and politically’’. Besides public opinion must be built based on actual ground reality, merit and facts.

Punjab has engaged lawyers led by Mr F.S. Nariman to file the petitions, one curative and two civil suits. There was criticism for the delay in filing the petitions, which was explained away as due to ‘’tactical and technical’’ reasons. The participants were also told of the steps initiated in preparing the case, including Capt Amarinder Singh writing to the Prime Minister and Mr Om Prakash Chautala.

The broad approach of Punjab is on the following lines:

There is no surplus water. The availability of surplus Ravi-Beas waters, which was earlier assumed as 17.17 million acre feet has been reduced to 14.37 million acre feet, as per the 1981-2002 flow series. Punjab falls in the ‘’deficit’’ Indus basin, while Haryana is in the ‘’surplus’’ Yamuna basin. Transferring water through the SYL canal will render 9 lakh acres of irrigated land in Ferozepore, Muktsar, Moga, Faridkot a desert. It will also effect re-charge of groundwater and the eco-system. The Rajiv-Longowal accord comprises several issues, including the territorial claims. Therefore, water and SYL cannot be considered in isolation. Haryana is not a riparian state, as the Ravi, the Beas and the Sutlej do not flow through its territory.

Also, adverse consequences of the SYL canal will impinge on social fabric leading to law and order problems, unemployment, economic crisis and even pose a threat to national security. There will also be reduced agricultural production and income.

While several speakers drilled holes in the agreements/awards announced in the past, including the Rajiv-Longowal award, some others defended the same saying that it had the stamp of approval of Parliament. The participants interpreted the issues, as per their party ideologies/perceptions and did not miss an opportunity to have a dig at one another. Majority of the speakers targeted Mr Badal time and again. In fact, the absence of the SAD and the BJP was made more pronounced by those who were present.

One pertinent point raised by several participants was to consider the Punjab-Haryana water dispute as a ‘’national problem’’. Even as some welcomed the move to interlink rivers, considered as national assets, others opposed it and stressed that the riparian rights of states must be protected and also that there should be no transfer of water form deficit to surplus basin states.

If there were bouquets, there were brickbats too for the Chief Minister, who was trying to undo the harm done by his predecessors in the Congress and the SAD. A suggestion to form a ‘’monitoring cell’’ was well-received to follow up the Punjab case, politically, administratively, legally and constitutionally.

The occasion was also used to raise issues/problems faced by the farmers, including the withdrawal of free power. Some controversies were created towards the fag-end of the meeting on the issue of wording of the resolution but it was sorted out with all endorsing the demand for holding a special session.

Some skepticism was also expressed as to how far the Congress will actually lead the state now that it has added a new political arrow to its quiver or will it back-track at the command of the party high command in pursuing the issues involved. But there was also strong voice that all national parties must also make their stands clear in such disputes ensuring that their units in different states did not take opposite stands. Some said if no justice is done, Punjab should go to the UNO.

Prominent participants at the meeting included Mr Simranjit Singh Mann, Mr Prem Singh Chandumajra, Mr Manjit Singh Khera, Mr Sucha Singh Chottepur, Mr Kuldip Singh Wadala, Mr Mangat Ram Pasla, Mr Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, Mr Pashora Singh and Mr Jagjit Singh Anand.

Meanwhile, SAD chief Parkash Singh Badal today accused Captain Amarinder Singh, of “an unpardonable moral and political hypocrisy on the issue of the SYL canal” and said that his party had decided to stay away from today’s dishonest exercise “as the SAD could not be a party to this fraud on the people of Punjab.”

“Captain Amarinder Singh has neither the moral courage nor the political will required to oppose Mrs Indira Gandhi’s allocation of 3.5 MAF of river water to Haryana in 1976 which is the only basis on which the SYL curse is based,” said Mr Badal in a statement here.

He expressed his surprise as to why the Chief Minister had chosen to sleep through the entire tenure of his 10 months without even filing a review petition in the Supreme Court, which was of paramount importance. “There is a deep-rooted conspiracy behind the unbelievable delay on the part of the Chief Minister in filing a review petition against the apex court deadline of January 15 on the SYL issue. This looks quite a deliberate act aimed at saving himself from the embarrassment of having to oppose Mrs Indira Gandhi’s arbitrary, dictatorial and unjust decision,” the SAD leader said.

Mr Badal said the SAD would never allow this canal to be constructed and not flinch from any making sacrifice in the process.



SYL row: threat to stop Punjab buses
Ravi S.Singh
Tribune News Service

Gurgaon, January 8
The controversy in south Haryana on the issue of Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal project is likely to blow up as the January 15 deadline set by the Supreme Court to the Punjab Government for the completion of the construction works draws near.

The Haryana Yuva Kisan Sangharsh Samiti today cautioned that it would launch an agitation to block the passage of vehicles of Punjab passing through Haryana in case the government of that state failed to comply with the court’s deadline. A road near Narnaul is the route that leads to Punjab from Haryana side, and vice versa. It further warned that it would also gherao the residence of the President of the Congress, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, for allegedly refusing to ask its party government in Punjab to complete the completion works on the SYL canal.

While most of the construction works on the SYL canal in Haryana has been accomplished the construction work in the portion lying in Punjab has not been completed on account of the opposition from all political parties there. The canal is meant to bring Ravi-Beas water to South Haryana spanning over Gurgaon, Faridabad, Rewari, Mahendergarh, Jhajhar and Bhiwani districts.

The President of the Haryana Yuva Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, Mr Naresh Yadav said the details of the proposed agitation would be finalised at an emergency meeting of the organisation, convened on January 12 at Lahroda village near Narnaul.

He made a scathing criticism of the state Congress leaders, particularly those of South Haryana, saying that now they were shedding crocodile tears when they were out of power. The party did nothing when it was in power for a very long period in the state. He made special reference to the agitation launched by the Congress leaders, especially Captain Ajay Sing and Rao Inderjeet Singh, on the water issue in the Ahirwal belt in south Haryana.

He said they had been ministers in the Congress government in Haryana. But they did not bother to take up the issue when they had the best opportunity to get it resolved as they cared only about maintaining their privileged position in the government. They were now raking up the issue to serve their political purpose. Same was the case with leaders of other political parties, including the ruling INLD and the HVP, he added.

Incidentally, while Captain Ajay Singh is also the main organiser of a Congress rally at Rewari, to be addressed by the Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee (HPCC) President, Mr Bhajan Lal, Rao Inderjeet Singh is also organising a public meeting at Narnaul on January 15. Among others, water issue will be the dominant theme in both the meetings.

Mr Naresh Yadav demanded that Mr Bhajan Lal and Mr Bansi Lal, the two former Chief Ministers and Mr Om Parkash Chautala, Chief Minister, should make their stand clear on the already inequitable distribution of the water with the state. The water from the Ravi, which was meant for south Haryana, was diverted to areas like Hisar and Sirsa. While Hisar is the home district of Mr Bhajan Lal, Sirsa is the home district of Mr Chautala. No Chief Minister has tried to rectify the anomaly, he added.



So close and yet so far
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, January 8
Only a boundary wall separated them. Though they — the Chief Ministers of Punjab and Haryana — are caught in a political war of facts and figures over the vexed and sensitive issue of the SYL canal, they had been in hearing distance of each other for most part of the day today.

In fact, the entire focus and attention of the two state governments was on a small area in Sector 3 where the two Chief Ministers presided over their respective state-level meetings on important though separate issues at adjoining Punjab Bhavan and Haryana Niwas today.

As such the two state guest houses witnessed not only heavy deployment of securitymen but also had a big battery of newsmen there as both meetings were held in full media glare .

Incidentally, both Chief Ministers were accompanied not only by members of their respective Council of Ministers but also senior bureaucrats and other political leaders.

While the Punjab Government had called an all-party meeting on the SYL issue, the Haryana Chief Minister presided over a one-day special workshop on domestic violence. The entire proceedings of the all-party meeting of Punjab were telecast live.

It has been unprecedented in the history of Punjab and Haryana that the Chief Ministers of the neighbouring states presided over their respective state-level functions simultaneously and within 100 metres of each other .

The Haryana Chief Minister had turned down an offer from his Punjab counterpart for a meeting on the SYL issue, saying that first the Supreme Court verdict on the issue be honoured.

The two meetings generated tremendous interest as the SYL issue has snowballed into a major political issue not only for Punjab and Haryana but also for the NDA Government at the Centre as the apex court verdict of January 15 makes it a party. The apex court directive held that in case the Punjab Government failed to complete the SYL within one year, it would be for the Central Government to get it completed.

While the national leadership of major political parties, including the BJP and the Congress, are non-committal on the issue, the state units of these parties have naturally taken stands positive to their respective states.

Except for a courteous exchange of greetings at certain social or political functions or at the zonal or national-level meetings of Chief Ministers, there has been no occasion for the two Chief Ministers — Capt Amarinder Singh and Mr Om Parkash Chautala — to meet and thrash out bilateral issues. Even when the SAD-BJP alliance was in power in Punjab, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal hardly held any one-to-one meeting with his friendly counterpart, Mr Om Parkash Chautala, on important bilateral issues. They used to be together only while pressing the Centre Government for increasing the minimum support price for the kharif and rabi crops.


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