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Centre may go in for Presidential reference
Punjab’s law on water
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 19
The Centre is keeping its options open on going in for a Presidential reference under Article 143 of the Constitution on Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s unilateral move to abrogate water-sharing pacts with neighbouring states. This will enable the matter to be taken up by a Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court.

Caught in a bind over the passage of a special law by the Punjab Assembly, the Congress-led UPA government may be left with little choice but to exercise this option as the affected state governments of Haryana and Rajasthan have not challenged the move in the apex court so far.

The Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA), which discussed this issue tonight along with the law and order problem in these states, is learnt to have deputed Law Minister Hansraj Bhardwaj to approach the chief ministers again about their course of action. The matter will be discussed afresh tomorrow on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s return from Assam.

Highly placed government sources said this issue can be taken up by a Constitutional Bench if there is a Presidential reference or if the state governments concerned approach the apex court for a solution. Since the affected Chief Ministers of Haryana and Rajasthan, Mr O.P. Chautala and Mr Vasundhra Raje, have not shown any inclination on moving the Supreme Court, the Centre will have to go in for a Presidential reference.

The two Opposition Chief Ministers had, in their meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, assured him that they will challenge the Punjab legislation in the Supreme Court. With politics becoming an overriding factor, the two are now having second thoughts on moving the apex court as that would be tantamount to bailing out the Centre. Faced with assembly elections in Haryana, Mr Chautala would rather have the Centre taken responsibility for resolving this vexed issue.

As it is, the issue is threatening to become a major electoral issue with all political parties seeking to extract political mileage from what could become a highly emotive issue. BJP and Congress legislators in Haryana have tendered their resignation to lodge their protest against the Punjab Chief Minister’s move while the BJP state unit even called a state-wide bandh on this issue. Consequently, the Centre is under increasing pressure to take a proactive stand on Punjab’s move.

The Congress is faced with a real predicament. It is unable to disagree openly with Mr Amarinder Singh’s decision as it would only create more problems for the faction-ridden state unit. On the other hand, it cannot endorse it as that would have an adverse political impact in the election-bound state of Haryana.

The Centre has already sought fresh directions from the Supreme Court in the ongoing case on the SYL canal.

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