Tuesday, January 14, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


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Punjab moves SC on SYL
A. S. Prashar
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, January 13
The Punjab Government announced today that it had filed a suit in the Supreme Court to seek “justice on river waters distribution” under Article 131 by discharging it from the obligation to construct the Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal.

The move has come barely a day before the deadline set by the apex court for midnight tomorrow for completion of the controversial canal which has bedevilled relations between Punjab and Haryana for nearly two decades now.

The government has cited “changed circumstances” as the reason for its inability to complete the canal, setting the stage for a fresh round of legal and political wrangling between the two states on the highly emotive issue of distribution of surplus river waters.

The Haryana Chief Minister, Mr Om Prakash Chautala, has already convened an all-party meeting on the issue here tomorrow while the leader of the Congress, Mr Bhajan Lal, has threatened to launch a “jail bharo” agitation in case of a further delay in the construction of the SYL canal.

The Punjab Government has filed the civil suit in the wake of the apex court’s verdict which had directed the state government on January 15 last year to initiate work for the canal’s completion within a year. If Punjab fails to do so, the Centre should get the work done with the help of its agencies, the court had directed.

The following are the details of the suit as given out by an official spokesman:

1. Decree of Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of India on January 15, 2002, has decreed the suit being O.S. No.6 of 1996 filed by the state of Haryana and directed the state of Punjab by a mandatory injunction to dig the SYL canal in its territory so as to enable Haryana to carry a part of its share of water of 3.5 MAF in the Ravi-Beas system. The review petition filed by the Government of Punjab challenging the decree was dismissed on March 5, 2002.

2. The interest of the state of Punjab and its farmers, particularly those of the farmers living in the districts of Ferozepore, Faridkot, Muktsar, Moga and parts of Sangrur, Mansa and Bathinda, has persuaded the Government of Punjab to take the following steps:

a) Complaint for re-allocation

The state of Punjab has filed a complaint dated January 11, 2003 on January 13, 2003 under Section 3 of the Inter State Water Disputes Act, 1956 seeking

(I) Adjudication on the question whether state of Haryana is the riparian state to the Ravi-Beas system and

(II) Re-allocation (if Haryana is riparian) of the waters of Ravi and Beas amongst the basin states under the changed circumstances namely:

i) Reduction in the water from 17.17 MAF to 14.34 MAF, i.e. about 16 per cent on Yamuna Agreement dated May 12, 1994;

iii) Further availability of another 1.62 MAF to Haryana under the Sharda Yamuna Link proposed by the Government of India in its resolution dated December 13, 2002 pursuant to the judgement dated October 31, 2002 of the Supreme Court in the case of “Networking of Rivers”;

iv) The present uses of Punjab, particularly in the districts of Ferozepore, Faridkot, Muktsar, Moga and parts of Sangrur, Mansa and Bathinda.

These areas were allocated water legally before the reorganisation of the states i.e. November 1, 1966 and the people have continued to use water, leading to the development of legitimate expectations over the last five decades;

v) In re-allocation, the basin areas shall have first charge over the waters of Ravi-Beas. The trans-basin diversions to the Yamuna basin, which is a surplus basin is not permissible under the rules of equitable apportionment governing inter-state or international drainage basins;

b) Suit before Supreme Court

The state of Punjab has filed a suit on January 13, 2003 under Article 131 of the Constitution, inter-alia, seeking:

(I) Discharge from the obligation to construct the SYL canal under the changed circumstances mentioned in the complaint filed by the state of Punjab on January 13, 2002, where adjudication on the question whether Haryana is a riparian state or not and re-allocation of the waters of Ravi-Beas is sought.

(i) The vires of Section 78(1) of the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966 which empowers the Government of India to distribute the waters of Ravi-Beas, has been challenged as ultra vires of the Constitution.

(ii) The vires of Section 14 of the Inter State Water Disputes Act, 1956 has also been challenged.

(iii) The Punjab Settlement (popularly called the Rajiv-Longowal pact) Accord does not constitute a binding contract for want of compliance with the Constitutional requirement under Article 299 and for the reason that for last more than 17 years no steps have been taken with regard to other issues which were part of settlement. The communication of Haryana Chief Minister dated January 6, 2003 also shows that Haryana has resiled from the said understanding.

(iv) Alternatively, Punjab has asked that in case the said accord is held to be valid, then the SYL canal construction must be linked with the performance of other obligations on the part of the state of Haryana and Union of India, including transfer of Chandigarh and recruitment in the Army on merit.

(II) A declaration that the judgement dated January 15, 2002 in O.S. 6 of 1996 is not binding on the state of Punjab as it was not decided by the Constitution Bench of, at least, five judges as mandated by Article 145(3) of the Constitution and

3. Practice of periodic review

The water allocations, whether effected by agreement, legislation or adjudication are always subject to periodic review. The Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal, 1973 and 1976 has prescribed review of its decision after the lapse of 25 years i.e. from May 31, 2000. Similarly, the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal, 1979 has prescribed review of its decision after a period of 30 years. The US Supreme Court, which was apportioned inter-state river waters in many cases, has always retained jurisdiction at the foot of the decree to review and modify the allocations. The practice with regard to the agreements is also same. For instance, the Yamuna Basin Agreement dated May 12, 1994 where Haryana is a party, contemplates revision after 2025. Hence, it is submitted that the allocation of water in Ravi-Beas which was originally made on January 29, 1955 and subsequently reaffirmed after the Punjab’s reorganisation is liable for review on the grounds of fundamental change of circumstances.

4. Principles of re-allocation

In the reallocation of water, Punjab has pleaded for strict observation to the rules of equitable apportionment governing the Inter-state or International Drainage Basins. Punjab, accordingly, has pleaded that the basin areas should have first charge over the waters. In this regard, Punjab has pointed out back the basin areas in Haryana (assuming it falls in the Indus Basin) is only 1/5th of the basin area in Punjab. Further, trans-basin diversions to Yamuna Basin in Haryana is not permissible as Yamuna Basin is a surplus basin. The Sharda-Yamuna Link proposed by the Government of India pursuant to the judgement dated October 31, 2002 in the “Networking of the Rivers” case has also been highlighted. This link gives Haryana an additional water of 1.62 MAF. Under the changed circumstances, SYL diversion is neither advisable nor justifiable according to Punjab.

5. Constitutional remedies

The peace achieved by great sacrifice of people of Punjab in the 1980s and early 1990s should not be allowed to dissipate. The Government of Punjab, therefore, is fully committed to protect the interest of its farmers by pursuing all constitutional remedies available to it. The state of Punjab is being guided by a strong legal team short listed by Advocate-General which includes eminent jurist and legal luminaries like Mr Fali S. Nariman, Senior Advocate and Mr Anil B. Divan, Senior Advocate.

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