Punjab can’t deny Ravi-Beas waters to others: SC

NEW DELHI:In a blow to Punjab, the Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that Punjab was bound to share the Ravi-Beas waters with Haryana and other states and comply with its two judgments for completion of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal.

Punjab can’t deny Ravi-Beas waters to others: SC

A Tribune file photograph of Haryana leaders and officials at the SYL canal site in 1989 and (right) the dried-up canal that was to deliver Ravi-Beas waters to Haryana.

R Sedhuraman

Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, November 10 

In a blow to Punjab, the Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that Punjab was bound to share the Ravi-Beas waters with Haryana and other states and comply with its two judgments for completion of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal.

A  five-member Constitution Bench, headed by Justice Anil R Dave, made the clarification while invalidating the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act 2004 by which the state had terminated its pacts with Haryana, Himachal, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi for sharing the waters of the two rivers.

EditWater Act terminated

The apex court ruled that the 2004 Act was in violation of the constitutional provisions, the Inter-State Water Disputes Act 1956 and the Punjab Reorganisation Act 1966 and as such did not discharge the state from its obligations under the agreement of December 31, 1981, and other pacts pertaining to sharing of Ravi-Beas waters and under the two SC judgments in 2002 and 2004 on the construction of the SYL canal. 

Sent to the apex court by the then Manmohan Singh government through President APJ Abdul Kalam after the Punjab Assembly passed the law on July 12, 2004, the reference contained four questions that required SC’s answers.

The President had sought the apex court’s opinion on whether the Act was in consonance with constitutional provisions, the reorganisation Act, the inter-state pacts on Ravi-Beas waters and the two SC judgments. “All the questions referred to this court are answered in the negative,” the SC said. The others on the Bench were Justices PC Ghose, SK Singh, AK Goel and Amitava Roy. 

“The Punjab Act cannot be considered to be legal and valid and the State of Punjab cannot absolve itself from its duties/liabilities” arising from the December 31, 1981, agreement. The state was not justified in enacting the law citing the need to protect the interests of its residents, the Bench said.

It, however, rejected Haryana’s oral plea for extending the status quo order passed on March 17, 2016, directing Punjab not to notify the SYL Canal Land (Transfer of Proprietary 

Rights) Bill 2016 meant for returning about 4,000 acres of land acquired for construction of part of the SYL canal falling within the state.

Haryana was free to take appropriate steps, including approaching the SC, the Bench told the state’s senior counsel Shyam Divan. In its opinion on the Presidential reference, the Bench, however, held that the proposed law was in “clear violation” of the 1981 agreement.

The SC had passed the status quo order on Haryana’s application filed to be heard as part of the Presidential reference. Since the reference stood answered, no further order could be passed on the plea for extending the status quo for a few days as pleaded by Haryana, the Bench explained.

1981 pact entitlement 

Punjab 4.22 million acre ft (MAF) 

Haryana 3.50 MAF

Rajasthan 8.60 MAF

Delhi  0.20 MAF

J&K 0.65 MAF

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