Ruchika M Khanna
Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, November 16
The Punjab Vidhan Sabha today passed a resolution directing the state government to demand charges for riverwaters flowing to the non-riparian states of Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi. It asked the state to seek the Centre’s help to recover the charges.
The resolution also directed the Punjab Government, Council of Ministers and all state employees not to hand over land to any agency for the construction of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal, allow any agency to begin work on it, or cooperate with any agency in its construction. The proposal was mooted by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.
Edit: Election-time itch
Addressing the House, Badal said all aspects of water, including drainage, embankments, water storage and water power, fell in the State List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India. The state could not part with its waters since almost 105 blocks were water-stressed and groundwater utilisation had been overexploited, he said.
“Punjab needs 52 MAF (million acre feet) water for agriculture, but only 27 per cent is presently being met from riverwaters. The once-fertile land is becoming barren because of low water availability, which will impact the food security of the nation and the state’s economy,” he said.
The Opposition Congress MLAs, who resigned from the Assembly last week in the wake of the SC verdict rendering the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act 2004 invalid, chose to stay away from the session.
However, Balwinder Singh Bains and Simarjit Singh Bains — Independent MLAs from Ludhiana — and Pargat Singh, who quit the Akali Dal recently, were present. The Bains brothers, particularly Simarjit, targeted the Treasury Benches for stealing his private member’s Bill moved in the last session on seeking charges from non-riparian states for water use.
Accusing Badal of failing to defend the rights of the state in the Supreme Court, Simarjit said giving these directions was “just politics at play”.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Madan Mohan Mittal proposed the resolution saying there had been instances where the state had demanded royalty and received it. Patiala, Nabha and Jind paid royalty till 1945-46 for using waters of the Sutlej, he said.
Bassi Pathana MLA Nirmal Singh said Rajasthan owed the state Rs 80,000 crore as royalty for using state waters.
Simarjit Singh Bains, however, put the figure at Rs 15.34 lakh crore. On Bains’ insistence, the names of the three non-riparian states were incorporated in the resolution.
The government was initially contemplating bringing the demand of seeking remuneration from other non-riparian states through a Bill — The Punjab State Ownership, Utilization and Imposition of Cess/Charges on Water Bill, 2016. But being a money Bill, it required a nod from the Punjab Governor, who wouldn’t have given his assent to bringing a money Bill during the emergency session, said sources.
The government then decided to use all provisions envisaged in the draft Bill into a resolution and issue directions to the state for its implementation. Interestingly, the directions issued by the legislature can be set aside only by another legislation.
With the SYL canal issue dominating the state politics for over three decades now, whichever party forms the next government is unlikely to reverse this decision.
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