M A I N   N E W S

In tussle between Punjab and Haryana, Centre stays neutral
R Sedhuraman
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, August 5
Citing a flood threat, Punjab today strongly pleaded in the Supreme Court for restraining Haryana from strengthening the controversial Hansi-Butana canal even as Haryana questioned the court’s jurisdiction over the dispute relating to sharing of river waters.

During two hours of arguments before a Bench comprising Justices JM Panchal and HL Gokhale, the Central government took a neutral stand while Rajasthan disagreed with Punjab’s claim that the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej were intra-state rivers. Rajasthan is, however, against letting Haryana puncture the Bhakra Main Line (BML) at a new point to take water through the 109-km Hansi-Butana canal, constructed at a cost of Rs 260 crore.

Arguing for Punjab, senior counsel Harish Salve and Rajeev Dhavan said the walls of the canal which stood as high as 7-10 feet were blocking the “natural flow” of flood waters and causing destruction in 70 villages and 70,000 hectares of agricultural land in Patiala district and other areas bordering Haryana.

Last year, the flood waters flowing from Punjab had ruptured the embankments at a point. Haryana said the floods had played havoc in its area and started strengthening the embankments to prevent such breaches. Punjab, however, contended that Haryana had no right to raise such an artificial toe wall and prevent the natural flow, worsening the flood situation in its villages.

Salve contended that after the initial hearing on Punjab’s original suit filed in 2007 objecting to the construction of the Hansi-Butana canal, the SC had directed Haryana to maintain status quo. Strengthening the canal walls was against this status quo order, he reasoned.

Arguing for Haryana, senior counsel Vinod Arvind Bobde, Altaf Ahmed and Gopal Subramanium contended that under the law, Punjab should take its grievance to the Centre. The Centre should then try to resolve it through negotiations within a year and if there was no breakthrough, it should be referred to a tribunal under the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act. The judiciary, including the SC, had no role in it.

Rebutting this stand, Salve said Haryana had filed a suit against Punjab over the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal which also related to the waters of the same rivers. When the SC had jurisdiction over the SYL dispute, it also has jurisdiction in this case as well, he reasoned.

Interestingly, Punjab had challenged the jurisdiction of SC that time, Haryana said.

Asked about the Centre’s stand, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Harin Rawal said, “The stand is we have not been taking any stand.” Salve butted in stating that the Centre was merely “standing behind.”

Appearing for Rajasthan, senior counsel KK Venugopal said his client would like to show evidence disputing Punjab’s claim that the three rivers were not inter-state. Further arguments have been slated for August 19. 





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