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SYL canal construction now may raise law and order problems: Centre's report in SC

Punjab refuses to construct its part of SYL canal; Haryana demands implementation of top court verdict

SYL canal construction now may raise law and order problems: Centre's report in SC

An official stands beside SYL canal at the Haryana border near Sarala village. Tribune file



Tribune News Service

Satya Prakash

New Delhi, March 18

There appears to be no immediate solution to the vexed Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal issue as the Punjab Government has refused to construct its part of the canal even as the Haryana government insisted on construction of the canal in terms of the 2002 verdict of the Supreme Court.

In a report filed in the top court, the Centre said, “Further in 2016, Punjab had already 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 Union Jal Shakti Ministry’s report has been filed in response to the top court’s September 6, 2022 order seeking a status report on the progress made in the meeting of chief ministers and senior bureaucrats of Punjab and Haryana on construction of SYL Canal.

Giving details of the meetings between the Punjab and Haryana, the Centre said in its report that “Punjab was of the view that the water availability in the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej system of rivers has reduced and there is no excess water for sharing with Haryana… As there is no excess water in Beas and Sutlej rivers to be shared with Haryana, the need for construction of SYL Canal does not arise.”

The Haryana government declined to deliberate on any aspect other than the construction of the canal, in terms of the 2002 Supreme Court judgment. It also sought to highlight that the Punjab law on termination of agreements has already been declared unconstitutional by the top court.

“Even after the best efforts by the centre, there has been no agreement on the issue of construction of SYL among the two states in the meeting. However, both states agreed to discuss a workable solution on the issue in future,” the report stated.

However, the Ministry of Jal Shakti said it was making all efforts to bring the states together for an amicable solution.

According to the report, the October 14 meeting between the two chief ministers “concluded without any agreement.” They again met with the Union Jal Shakti Minister on January 4 this year but no progress could be made.

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.

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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