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Posted at: Sep 4, 2019, 6:48 AM; last updated: Sep 4, 2019, 10:37 AM (IST)

SYL dispute: SC gives four more months for negotiated settlement

SYL dispute: SC gives four more months for negotiated settlement
The Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal. — File photo

Satya Prakash
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, September 3

The Supreme Court on Tuesday gave four more months to Punjab, Haryana, and the Centre to find an amicable solution to break the deadlock between the two states over the Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal.

A Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra extended the timeframe for talks after Attorney General KK Venugopal asked for three months for discussions towards an amicable solution.

However, the Bench said it was ready to give four more months for talks.

Haryana Government counsel wanted the court to fix a timeframe for concluding the talks, saying it cannot go on indefinitely.

On the eve of Supreme Court hearing on the SYL issue, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had on Monday called on Union Jalshakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.

The Union Jal Shakti Ministry has already convened several meetings—attended by chief secretaries of the two states—which remained inconclusive.

Punjab has been demanding a negotiated settlement between the two states with the help of the Centre.

The Supreme Court had earlier told the Centre, Punjab and Haryana to conclude their talks on the construction of the SYL canal “as soon as it can be”, saying also that it would decide the matter if negotiations remained unresolved.

At the root of the problem is the controversial 1981 water-sharing agreement after Haryana was carved out of Punjab in 1966. For effective allocation of water, 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 SYL canal, after the initial phase, Punjab stopped the work, leading to multiple cases.

In 2004, the Congress government in Punjab came out with the Punjab Termination of Agreement Act to terminate the 1981 agreement and all other pacts relating to sharing waters of the Ravi and Beas rivers.

In 2002, the top court had decreed Haryana's suit and ordered Punjab to honour its commitments on water sharing.

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 had declared the law passed by the Punjab Assembly in 2004 terminating the SYL canal water-sharing agreement with neighbouring states unconstitutional. It had answered in the negative all four questions referred to it in a Presidential Reference.

But in early 2017, Punjab returned land—on which canal was to be constructed—to the landowners.

The Supreme Court has said repeatedly that it didn’t intend to revisit the facts and issues already adjudicated upon. The decree that has been passed has to be executed and it should not be treated like a paper decree, it had said.

Haryana has maintained that it cannot be made to wait long for construction of the canal. Any further delay in execution of the top court’s decree passed in 2002 would lead to people losing faith in the judicial system, it has said.

On the other hand, Punjab says the decree was not executable and the state required time to argue its case. It has told the Supreme Court that the canal land returned to the landowners could not be recovered.

Punjab has contended that there were difficulties in implementation of the court’s decree. The decree was premised on the fact that there was enough water in the river. But now there is not much water flow, making it impossible to give effect to it.

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