New Delhi, March 14
Haryana today tried in vain in the Supreme Court to prevent Punjab from getting a Bill passed in the Assembly for the return of over 5,000 acres of land acquired for construction of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal.
Minutes before the passage of the Bill, Haryana’s senior counsel Shyam Divan pleaded with a five-member Constitution Bench headed by Justice Anil R Dave to issue an order, either restraining Punjab from going ahead with the Bill or directing the Centre to impose President’s rule under Article 356 of the Constitution.
Letting Punjab pass the SYL Bill would endanger the country’s federal structure as well as undermine the apex court’s authority, Divan pleaded.
The Bench was slated to hear arguments on the Presidential Reference on the validity of the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act 2004, through which the state had tried to invalidate two SC judgments directing it to complete construction of the SYL canal to enable Haryana to draw its share of water from the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej rivers.
As the hearing began at 2 pm, Divan told the Bench that the Punjab Assembly was about to consider the SYL Bill. While the 2004 Act was meant for subverting SC judgments, the present Bill, if allowed to be passed, would render the SC proceedings on the Presidential Reference meaningless, he contended. At this, the Bench asked Punjab’s senior counsel Rupinder Singh Suri and Ram Jethmalani on what was going on.
Suri said he had read about the SYL Bill only in The Tribune and was not briefed by the state on this. The Bench asked him to ascertain the facts immediately. Minutes later, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi walked in and said the Bill had been introduced.
The AG said the Centre did not want to side with either Punjab or Haryana but as an officer of the court, he was of the opinion that it was not for the SC to step in at this stage. Once the Bill was passed, Haryana would be free to challenge its validity and the SC could give its ruling on Haryana’s plea.
Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar also pleaded that the SYL Bill was not part of the proceedings on the Presidential Reference on the validity of the 2004 Act. Also, the SC was going to give only its opinion on the Reference, instead of upholding or striking down the Act.
Divan, however, pleaded that the SC opinion would be as good as its ruling as the opinion was not going to be reviewed by another apex court Bench.
The AG suggested that the Bench adjourn the hearing on the Reference for two weeks as the picture would be clear by then, but Haryana pleaded for going ahead with the proceedings. The Bench posted the next hearing for March 17.
The AG said the Centre could summon both the states and try to thrash out a solution if the SYL Bill went through. Minutes after the hearing ended at 3.30 pm, news came in about the Punjab Assembly endorsing the Bill.
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