New Delhi, October 4
The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Centre to conduct a survey of the land meant for construction of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal in Punjab to know how much work has been done and asked the Punjab Government to extend co-operation in the survey.
“We are concerned with the execution of a decree for construction of the canal in the Punjab portion...We would like the UOI to survey the portion of the land in Punjab allocated for the canal... An estimate has to be made about the extent of construction made by Punjab,” a Bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul told Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati.
Despite vehement opposition from senior counsel Shaym Divan, representing the State of Haryana, the Bench asked Bhati to furnish “certain information” with regard to availability of water for the SYL canal in two months.
The top court also directed the Centre, in the meantime, to look into the process of mediation to find an amicable solution to the vexed problem that has defied any solution for decades and posted the matter for further hearing in January 2024.
While noting that the matter had political ramifications, the Bench made it clear that “the decree (in favour of Haryana) stands” and “something will have to be done” as Haryana has already constructed its part of the canal.
As Divan pointed out that there was an order of the Supreme Court for execution of the decree, the Bench said the canal has to be constructed and the decree has to be executed even as the Punjab Government counsel talked about decreased availability of water and other problems in execution of the two-decade-old decree.
After Punjab’s refusal to construct its part of the SYL canal, the Supreme Court had on March 23 asked the Centre to play a more “pro-active role instead of being a mute spectator” to resolve the issue.
The Centre had earlier told the court that talks between the two states failed as Punjab has refused to construct its part of the canal and in 2016, Punjab de-notified the land acquired for construction of SYL and returned it to farmers. “Therefore, construction of SYL now may raise law and order problems,” the Centre had said.
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.
According to a report filed by the Centre earlier this year, the October 14, 2022, and January 4, 2023, meetings between the chief ministers of Punjab and Haryana concluded without any agreement.
The Centre’s report stated that “Punjab also highlighted that Punjab Termination of Agreements Act (PTAA)-2004 is still in force and as per the Act no additional water, beyond 1.62 MAF, out of Haryana’s share of 3.5 MAF, which is being given to Haryana since the date of enforcement of the Act, shall be continued.”
Maintaining that a negotiated settlement of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal dispute can’t be reached, the Haryana Government had on January 19 requested the Supreme Court to ask the Punjab Government implement its order to complete the construction of the canal.
Haryana contended 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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