M A I N   N E W S

Amarinder meets Prime Minister; says no going back
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 13
While the Centre is yet to take a final view on the Bill passed by the Punjab Assembly terminating its water accords with neighbouring states, a preliminary perusal suggests the move may be legally untenable. It is likely that it could be struck down by the Supreme Court, highly placed government sources said today.

While the legal ramifications of this move are being scrutinised, a damage-control exercise was initiated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who held separate meetings with Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Haryana Chief Minister O.P. Chautala tonight to find an amicable solution to this inter-state water dispute. He will meet the chief ministers of Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan tomorrow.

Government officials denied Capt Amarinder Singh had consulted the Centre before taking this measure. On the other hand, the Prime Minister's aides maintained that Capt Amarinder Singh had pitched the Centre into a "grave constitutional crisis". In order to deal with it, Dr Manmohan Singh held a series of consultations throughout the day. He had a lengthy talk with Opposition leaders L.K. Advani and Jaswant Singh, who assured him full cooperation in resolving this issue. Congress President Sonia Gandhi also called on the Prime Minister to discuss the political ramifications of this move.

After his meeting with the Prime Minister, Mr Chautala said he had warned him of "anarchy in the country" if the Centre failed to take appropriate steps. The Punjab Chief Minister maintained he was legally and constitutionally within his rights to protect the interests of his state. There was no official word on these meetings.

Emerging from the meeting, Capt Amarinder Singh told presspersons that he had been advised by legal experts that there was no bar on the state legislature from enacting this law, adding that if some people were not happy with this decision, they were free to go to court.

"We have every right to protect our interests," he stated, adding this move was not tantamount to contempt of court as was being suggested. "If it is unconstitutional, it will be struck down by the Supreme Court," he maintained. He also kept the door open for legal intervention when he said the "final decision is a judicial review."

Stating that there was no going back on this move, Capt Amarinder Singh explained that the legislation only applied to the future and that it had protected the current usage of water by the neighbouring states.

Mr Chautala, on the other hand, said he told the Prime Minister that the Centre should ensure that the Supreme Court verdict on the SYL canal was implemented and that justice was done to all states. He said he also mentioned that if not rectified, this move could result in anarchy in the country as each state would then be free to take similar unilateral decisions. Dr Manmohan Singh, he said, had assured him that full justice would done to Haryana. If there was a problem in resolving this issue, the Haryana Government would approach the courts, he added.

The Congress-led UPA government is clearly in a bind on this issue. It cannot let down its own Chief Minister in Punjab who could be faced with a volatile situation if the state's interests are overlooked. At the same time, it cannot ignore Haryana, which is headed for an assembly election early next year. The Congress is on a comeback trail in this state and it cannot allow Mr Chautala to draw political mileage from this highly emotive issue.


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