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SC stay on Bhakra, Beas projects
S.S. Negi
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, May 10
In a major relief to the Punjab Government, the Supreme Court today stayed the order of the Rajasthan High Court directing it to hand over the maintenance of three head works of the Bhakra and Beas projects to the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB), an autonomous body under the Union Government.

Admitting the appeal of the Punjab Government against the May 2 order of the high court, directing the state to hand over the management of Ropar, Harike and Ferozepore headworks to the BBMB, a Bench of the Chief Justice, Mr R.C. Lahoti, Mr Justice D.M. Dharmadhikari and Mr Justice G.P. Mahtur said “until further order, the impugned judgement is stayed.”

The court issued notices to the Centre, BBMB, Rajasthan Government and D.M. Singhvi on whose PIL petition the High Court had passed the judgement on May 2.

The stay was granted when senior advocate Harish Salve and Punjab’s Advocate-General Harbhagwan Singh made a special mention of the filing of a special leave petition (SLP) by Punjab and sought immediate stay of the High Court judgement on the ground that it was passed on a petition by an individual without filing of any affidavit by the Centre and the Rajasthan Government.

On specific query by the court as for how many years the headworks in question were being maintained by the Punjab Government, Mr Salve said it was almost 40 years now that the state was managing them.

As Rajasthan Government counsel C.S. Vaidyanathan sought adjournment of the hearing at least by two days to enable him to file a counter-affidavit, the court observed “if nothing has happened all these years there will be no change with the stay.”

Posting further hearing in the matter after the summer vacation starting from next week, the Bench said the parties to the dispute should be aware that a matter relating to the water dispute was already pending before the court.

The Bench was apparently referring to the presidential reference on abrogation of all water accords by Punjab with neighbouring states last year after apex court’s verdict on the construction of the controversial SYL canal.

Seeking to allow its appeal, the Punjab Government warned of irreparable loss and injury if the impugned order was not stayed. “The headworks of Harike, Ferozepore and Ropar…till date have been effectively managed by the state since the very beginning,” the SLP said

Assailing the impugned judgement, the Punjab Government said it was not only against the principle of natural justice for reasons that no opportunity was given to the state to file a counter-affidavit on merits of the case and even without any affidavit being filed by the Union and Rajasthan governments, the SLP said the only question raised by Punjab in its reply before the high court was about the maintainability of the petition on which the order was passed.

The Punjab Government claimed that “Rajasthan has no concern with the Ropar and Ferozepore headworks as the former regulates the supply of water only for distribution within the state and the latter is no longer regulating any canal water supply to Rajasthan after the construction of the Harike headwork.”

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