New Delhi, January 19
Maintaining that a negotiated settlement of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal dispute can’t be reached, the Haryana Government on Thursday requested the Supreme Court to ask the Punjab Government implement its order to complete the construction of the canal.
“After this court’s suggestion in September last year, there have been several meetings. The last meeting took place in January this year. Unfortunately, there have not been any progress… No solution is in sight,” senior counsel Shyam Divan told a Bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul.
“The matter has been repeatedly adjourned since 2017 to enable us to talk. But we believe the time has come for this court to consider issuing further orders for the execution of the decree,” Divan said, demanding implementation of the top court’s orders.
The Bench deferred the hearing to March 15 as Attorney General R Venkataramani was not available.
The Supreme Court had on September 9 last year asked the chief ministers of Punjab and Haryana to meet and negotiate an amicable settlement to the vexed issue that has defied any solution for decades despite several rounds of litigation.
It had asked the Union Jal Shakti Ministry to call a meeting of the two chief ministers for the purpose.
“Water is a natural resource and living beings must learn to share it—whether individuals or states. The matter cannot be looked at from the point of view of only one city or one state. Its natural wealth to be shared and how it’s to be shared is a mechanism to be worked out,” the Bench had said.
The chief ministers of the two states met on January 4 during a meeting chaired by Union Water Resources Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat in the national capital but they failed to break the ice.
Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann said his state did not have even a single drop of water to share even as Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar demanded full construction of the canal. Khattar asserted that getting water through the SYL canal was Haryana’s right.
At the root of the problem is the 1981 water-sharing agreement after Haryana was carved out of Punjab in 1966. For effective allocation of water, the SYL canal was to be constructed and the two states were required to construct their portions within their territories. While Haryana constructed its portion of the canal, after the initial phase, Punjab stopped the work, leading to multiple cases.
In 2002, the top court decreed Haryana’s suit and ordered Punjab to honour its commitments on water-sharing.
However, the Punjab Assembly passed the Punjab Termination of Agreement Act in 2004 to terminate the 1981 agreement and all other pacts on sharing waters of the Ravi and the Beas.
Punjab filed an original suit that was rejected in 2004 by the Supreme Court which asked the Centre to take over the remaining infrastructure work of the SYL canal project.
In November 2016, the top court declared the law passed by the Punjab Assembly in 2004 terminating the SYL canal water-sharing agreement with neighbouring states unconstitutional. In early 2017, Punjab returned land—on which the canal was to be constructed—to the landowners.
Haryana maintained that it cannot be made to wait long for construction of the canal. Any further delay in execution of the top court’s 2002 decree will erode people’s faith in the judicial system. But Punjab argued the decree was premised on the fact that there was enough water in the river and now that there was not much water flow, it was impossible to execute the decree.
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