New Delhi, March 28
“We stand by Section 5 that all agreements in terms of this will be honoured,” senior advocate Rajiv Dhawan, appearing for the Punjab government, told a Bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices R.V. Raveendran and D.K. Jain during a brief hearing on Haryana's plea for early hearing of a presidential reference against the validity of the PTA Act, passed by the previous Amarinder Singh government in July 2004.
The crisp statement of Punjab’s counsel came in response to Haryana government’s counsel Vinod Bobde who said “we are in a situation when the new government in Punjab has made a statement on Section 5.”
After Badal had made the statement on March 3 at a press conference after becoming the Chief Minister that he would scrap Section 5 of the PTA Act, Haryana had rushed to the Supreme Court for early hearing of the presidential reference on the validity of the PTA Act, pending for the past three years.
Dhawan, appearing with Punjab’s standing counsel Rupinder Singh Suri, claimed that “no such statement was ever made” by Badal.
The court, however, said due to the tight schedule of listed cases for regular hearing, the matter could not be accommodated before the summer vacation and the date for taking it for arguments would be fixed only on July 17 but it would not be later than two to three weeks. Badal’s statement had created a flutter in political circles, particularly in Haryana and Rajasthan, the two affected states, and even the SAD coalition partner, the BJP had taken exception to it.
With the passing of the PTA Act, the previous Amarinder Singh government had abrogated all water-sharing agreements, signed by Punjab with neighbouring states from 1981 onwards but Section 5 inserted in it provided that the river waters supply level as existed on the date of the passing of the legislation, would be maintained.
Scraping of Section 5 would apparently give discretionary power to the Punjab government to further curtail the supply of water to Haryana and Rajasthan from the Ravi-Beas system. Badal had justified his statement on the grounds that Punjab, being a riparian state, had a right of first use of the river waters. Punjab had justified the abrogation of the agreements on the grounds that the level of water in the rivers flowing in the state had come down drastically to a little over 14 MAF from more than 17 MAF two decades ago.
The UPA government had made a four-point presidential reference to the apex court seeking its opinion whether a state has a constitutional right to “unilaterally” scrap the agreements signed by it with other states.
The Amarinder Singh government had passed the Act in view of the Supreme Court’s direction to the Centre to construct the unfinished SYL canal in the territory of Punjab to supply the Ravi-Beas waters to Haryana.
SAD volte face expected
Chandigarh, March 28
Among legal luminaries and seasoned political observers, it was a foregone conclusion that the SAD will have to tone down the stance taken in its manifesto and also Parkash Singh Badal’s statement on the occasion of Hola Mohhala at Anandpur Sahib which had created a political storm of sorts.
The SAD manifesto — in reference to the PTAA and Section 5 of the same Act — says “the SAD-BJP government will take political, legal and constitutional steps to redress this grievous wrong done to the people of the state”.
The manifesto also says “ The Congress has systematically violated the riparian principle. The biggest blow to the state’s interests is by giving a legal guarantee to the flow of Punjab’s river waters to Haryana and Rajasthan under Clause 5. This strikes at the very roots of the riparian principle, completely contradicting Punjab’s stand that as Haryana and Rajasthan are non-riparian states, they have no right to have share in Punjab’s river waters.”
At Hola Mohalla, on March 3, Badal had made it clear that he will move ahead to scrap Section 5 of the PTAA, citing riparian rights of Punjab. This had raised hackles of Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. The Haryana Government immediately moved the Supreme Court, where the Punjab Government today submitted an affidavit in which it said the Punjab Government stands by Section 5 of the PTAA.
The BJP, the SAD alliance partner, had taken a tough stance on the issue, with V.K. Malhotra, the chief whip of the party in the Lok Sabha, demanding that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should intervene and stop Badal from taking the step. Badal, who has long held his view of honouring riparian rights, probably was under pressure from his alliance partner.