Centre should not allow transfer of Punjab’s river waters to non-basin areas, resolves all-party meet

Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, January 23

Expressing grave concern over the state’s critical water situation, an all-party meeting chaired by Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh on Thursday demanded reassessment of the state’s water availability and unanimously resolved that the Centre should ensure that Punjab river waters are not in any way transferred from basin to non-basin areas of the state’s three rivers.

All parties also unanimously demanded suitable amendments to the proposed Inter-State River Water Disputes Act to set up a new tribunal to ensure that Punjab got adequate water “in a just and equitable manner in keeping with its total demand and securing livelihood of the future generations”.

The resolution read: “Punjab does not have surplus water and is facing a threat of desertification with declining availability of its river water and fast depleting groundwater. The state’s groundwater that meets 73 per cent of its irrigation requirements has declined to alarming levels, threatening the livelihood of farmers and other poor people.

​“In such a situation, it is unanimously resolved that the Centre should ensure that Punjab river water is not in any way transferred from basin to non-basin areas of the Ravi, Sutlej and Beas as per internationally accepted riparian principle. Further, alternatives should be ascertained, including amendments to the proposed Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, to set up a new tribunal for a complete de novo assessment of availability of river waters before final decision, to harness, develop and provide adequate water to Punjab in a just and equitable manner in keeping with its total demand and securing livelihood of the future generations.”

The resolution was moved by minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria at the all-party meeting convened by the Chief Minister to ascertain ways to address the state’s continuously aggravating water crisis.

Though the resolution did not mention the SYL canal, leaders of all political parties, including the SAD and AAP, termed any move to construct the canal fatal for the state. All parties hailed the Chief Minister’s initiative in convening the meeting on the critical issue.

The Chief Minister later welcomed the positive and constructive suggestions given by leaders of all the parties saying his government would seek time from the Prime Minister to take an all-party delegation to represent Punjab’s case. The internationally accepted riparian principles had been ignored in the distribution of water in India, he pointed out, stressing the need to correct it. He also announced that his government would hold such all-party meetings every six months to discuss important issues related to the state.

Terming the water problem a vital issue of concern to the whole of Punjab, and not just to his government or the Congress party, the Chief Minister, at the outset, set the tone for the meeting by pointing out that water had emerged as a global issue in view of the climate change and melting glaciers. Cities were predicted to go under water across the world, he noted, adding that while that “might not happen in our time, we owe it to the future generations to find a solution”. The meeting, he said, had been convened to discuss the issue threadbare and arrive at a consensus to facilitate the formulation of a cohesive and long-term policy.

Expressing concern at the depleting ground water table, the CM observed that the level in Punjab rivers had reduced from 17 MAF, as listed by the Eradi Commission, to less than 13 MAF now. His government, said the CM, had been pressing the Prime Minister to form a fresh commission to assess the current water levels in Punjab’s three rivers. This was imperative in view of the changed situation, he told media after the meeting.

The CM clarified that the Bains brothers had not been invited to the meeting as only political parties recognised by the Election Commission had been included in the list of invitees.

Earlier, speaking during the meeting, Leader of Opposition Harpal Singh Cheema (AAP) extended full support to the government in promoting diversification of crops to enable water conservation in the state. The state should file another suit in the Supreme Court seeking fresh assessment of the available water in Punjab and insist on redistribution of water on riparian laws, he said. The situation in Malwa was particularly bad, he said, citing the growing number of cancer cases resulting from industrial water pollution, especially in Budha Nullah, he noted.

Aman Arora (AAP) urged the state government to form a sub-committee of ministers, officers and representatives of all political parties to further work on the vital issue.

Shiromani Akali Dal’s Balwinder Singh Bhunder said the parties should not indulge in blame game but unite to protect Punjab’s water resources. Terming the SYL a major issue, he said apart from legal remedies, it was also important to pursue the matter politically. Extending his party’s support to any steps taken by the Amarinder government to tackle the crisis, he said reassessment of the water levels in Punjab’s rivers was imperative.

Dubbing the SYL as suicidal for Punjab, Mahesh Inder Singh Grewal (SAD) endorsed the Chief Minister’s oft-repeated warning that it would lead to violence and possible revival of terrorism in the state. The Supreme Court, he felt, should hear a fresh petition and stay its decree on construction of the SYL. If the Centre’s fresh legislation for a new tribunal is passed, it would spell disaster for Punjab, he added. Calling for change in Section 12 of the Inter-State River Water Dispute (Amendment) Bill, 2019, to protect Punjab’s water interests, he underlined the need to put up a united fight on the issue.

SAD’s Chandumajra was also of the view that riparian laws needed to be followed in water allocation to Punjab.

Madan Mohan Mittal (BJP) thanked the Chief Minister for bringing all parties on one platform on the critical issue.

In his concluding remarks, Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar urged all parties to show collective will, leaving their egos aside in order to save Punjab. He suggested an all-party delegation to meet the Prime Minister with a mercy petition, given that people would start dying unless the problem is resolved at the earliest.

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