sharing of river waters

SC hearing on validity of Punjab law today

NEW DELHI: A five-member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court will hear tomorrow the presidential reference on the validity of the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act 2004 under which the state has sought to annul its pacts with its neighbours, particularly Haryana, for sharing the river waters of the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej.

R Sedhuraman

Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, February 28

A five-member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court will hear tomorrow the presidential reference on the validity of the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act 2004 under which the state has sought to annul its pacts with its neighbours, particularly Haryana, for sharing the river waters of the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej.

Headed by Justice Anil R Dave, the Bench includes Justices PC Ghose, SK Singh, AK Goel and Amitava Roy.

Chief Justice TS Thakur has constituted the Bench after Haryana’s Additional Advocate General Anil Grover mentioned the issue last week, seeking an urgent hearing.

The Punjab Assembly had 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 a Supreme Court 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 Supreme Court will 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 Supreme Court’s directive for the completion of the SYL canal.

AAG Grover said Haryana pleaded for an early ruling as the issue also encompassed the dispute over the Hansi-Butana canal and other suits pending in the Supreme Court involving Punjab and Haryana.

Haryana is likely to cite a 2004 judgment of the Supreme Court holding that Parliament and Assemblies had no power to enact laws to nullify judicial verdicts based on facts and findings.

A five-member Constitution Bench headed by the then Chief Justice of India RM Lodha had delivered the verdict in the dispute between Tamil Nadu and Kerala over the Mullaperiyar dam.

Haryana would contend that the 2004 Act was primarily to help Punjab wriggle out of its obligation to construct the SYL canal under the Supreme Court verdict.

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