M A I N   N E W S

Punjab legislation rocks Parliament
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 13
The passage of the controversial Punjab Termination of Agreements Bill, 2004, by the state Assembly rocked Parliament today, prompting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to call a meeting of the chief ministers of the four states concerned for an "amicable resolution of the crisis".

Peace was restored in both Houses of Parliament and normal business could be undertaken only after the Prime Minister assured the members in both Upper and Lower Houses that he shared the concerns expressed by them with regard to the Bill passed in the Punjab Assembly.

In his brief statement, Dr Manmohan Singh said: "I share the concern expressed in this House with regard to the adoption of a Bill by the Punjab Assembly terminating water-sharing agreements. I have, therefore, decided to convene a meeting of the chief ministers of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh to find an amicable solution."

"We have to find a lasting solution to resolve this matter, protecting the unity and integrity of the country and also the interests of the states concerned," the Prime Minister said.

Dr Manmohan Singh also put on record the assurance given by the Leaders of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, Mr L. K. Advani and Mr Jaswant Singh, respectively, extending their full support in resolving this issue.

Earlier, soon after the Rajya Sabha assembled for the day, agitated Opposition members were on their feet, demanding immediate intervention by the Prime Minister to deal with what they said was a constitutional crisis and an assault on federalism.

Leader of the Opposition Jaswant Singh demanded suspension of the Question Hour under Rule 267 to take up the issue.

To emphasise the importance of the issue, Dr Manmohan Singh said: "The decision (of the Punjab Assembly) raises several extremely sensitive inter-state issues, particularly the issue of sharing of river waters."

"This could put all other inter-state agreements in danger," he said, stressing that the issue warranted urgent discussion.

When Mr Jaswant Singh and Deputy Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj sought an assurance from the government that the Governor's assent should be held back, Water Resources Minister Priyaranjan Dasmunsi said he had been told informally that the Governor had given his assent to the Bill.

This led to a commotion with both Opposition and ruling-party members rushing to the well of the House. After 20 minutes of turmoil, Chairman Bhairon Singh Shekhawat adjourned the House till 12 noon.

When the House reassembled, BJP members led by Ms Sushma Swaraj insisted on a statement from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the issue. They trooped into the well of the House shouting slogans and had a verbal duel with Treasury Bench members even as Mr Shekhawat asked them to allow the proceedings of the House to continue till Mr Jaswant Singh, who along with Mr Advani had gone to meet Dr Manmohan Singh on the issue, returned.

"Heavens are not going to fall and I am prepared to listen to members if they go back to their seats and make their submissions in an orderly manner," Mr Shekhawat said.


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