Dispute over water sharing

Centre faults 2004 Punjab law

NEW DELHI: The Centre today took a stand against Punjab in the Supreme Court on the river water issue by contending that the law enacted by the state in 2004 cancelling its agreements with Haryana and other neighbouring states was against the SC orders for the completion of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal.

Centre faults 2004 Punjab law

The SYL canal.

editorial@tribune.com

R Sedhuraman

Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, February 29

The Centre today took a stand against Punjab in the Supreme Court on the river water issue by contending that the law enacted by the state in 2004 cancelling its agreements with Haryana and other neighbouring states was against the SC orders for the completion of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal.

Appearing for the Centre, Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar told a five-member Constitution Bench headed by Justice Anil R Dave that “we stand by the two judgments” of the SC for the construction of the SYL canal which was opposed by Punjab.

Kumar made the clarification as the Bench took up for hearing the 2004 Presidential reference on the validity of the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act 2004. The dispute is over sharing the river waters of the Ravi, Beas and the Sutlej.

The Centre, however, pleaded with the Bench to defer the hearing for some time in view of “what is happening” and the possibility of the sensitive issue of water sharing “aggravating” the situation. He was referring to the recent Jat quota agitation in Haryana that had turned violent.

The SG also said the reference also involved the states of Rajasthan, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, besides Punjab, Haryana and the Centre.

The Bench had begun hearing the case on a plea by Haryana for an urgent adjudication as the matter was pending for 12 years and pleadings were complete. Appearing for Punjab, senior advocates Rajeev Dhavan and Rupinder Singh Suri said the state law was in order, but pleaded for deferring the hearing at least till April. The other members of the Bench are Justices PC Ghose, SK Singh, AK Goel and Amitava Roy.

Rajasthan’s senior counsel CS Vaidyanathan maintained that Punjab assembly did not have the legislative competence to enact the law and sought an early hearing.

The bench said it wanted to begin today at least the preliminary hearings. At this, Haryana’s senior counsel Shyam Divan explained the Presidential reference under which the then President APJ Abdul Kalam had framed four issues for getting SC’s clarification. The arguments will resume on March 8.

Punjab Assembly passed the relevant Bill on July 12, 2004, when Capt Amarinder Singh was the Chief Minister, while the then Governor OP Verma gave his assent to the legislation the same night.

The state had enacted the law in the wake of an SC directive, asking the Centre to use its agencies to complete the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal on the Punjab side to enable Haryana to get its full share of water. Punjab had abandoned the work on the canal.

Under the reference, the SC would adjudicate if the 2004 Act was in accordance with Section 78 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act 1966 that deals with the rights and liabilities of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi.

Under Section 78, the Centre issued a notification on March 24, 1976, announcing the shares of Punjab and Haryana in the waters of the three rivers at 15.2 million acre feet (MAF) each, besides that of Delhi and Rajasthan.

The other issues involved in the reference are: Whether the Punjab law is in violation of the Inter-State Water Disputes Act 1956 and the SC’s directive for the completion of the SYL canal.

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