Chandigarh, January 4
Amid years of prolonged legal battle between Punjab and Haryana on the vexed Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal issue, all eyes are on the meeting called by Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat with chief ministers of two states to resolve the issue ahead of the Supreme Court hearing on the matter later this month.
The apex court in September 2022 had asked the chief ministers of the two states to negotiate an amicable solution to the issue that has defied settlement for decades despite several rounds of litigation.
“Natural resources have to be shared, particularly in view of the security scenario in Punjab…Water is a natural resource...one can't keep only individual interest in mind,” the top court had noted, also rapping the Centre for failing to bring the parties to a negotiated settlement, The Tribune reported on September 6, 2022.
Following the order, Shekhawat convened a meeting of Punjab and Haryana CMs in October 2022, which remained inconclusive.
While Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann claimed the state does not have “a single drop of water to share with Haryana”, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar was quoted as saying that this was his “final meeting” over the issue.
With both sides holding their ground, it would be interesting to see whether Shekhawat is able to bring Mann and Khattar to some meeting point ahead of the crucial apex court hearing.
While Haryana claims rights over the Sutlej waters, Punjab maintains that it has sole rights to the waters flowing through it.
Tracing the controversy
At the root of the problem is the controversial 1981 water-sharing agreement.
Haryana was carved out of Punjab in 1966.
For effective distribution of water, the 211-km-long SYL canal was decided and the two states were asked to construct portions within their respective territories. Of this, around 121 km was to be constructed in Punjab and 90 km in Haryana.
While Haryana constructed its portion around June 1980, Punjab stopped the work, leading to multiple cases and agitations.
In 2004, the Congress government in Punjab also came out with the Punjab Termination of Agreement Act (PTAA) to terminate the 1981 agreement and all other pacts relating to sharing waters of the Ravi and Beas. Basically, the PTAA abrogated all of its river water agreements with neighbouring states.
The court ordered Punjab to honour its commitment and continue work on the SYL.
The state moved a review which was rejected.
The top court also declared as "unconstitutional" the law passed by the Punjab Assembly in 2004 terminating the SYL canal water-sharing agreement with the neighbouring states.
In February 2017, the Supreme Court issued another order sticking to its earlier verdict that the construction of the SYL must be executed. It also asked Haryana and Punjab to maintain law and order “at any cost”.
In early 2017, Punjab also returned the land—on which the canal was to be constructed—to the landowners.
Haryana maintains that it cannot be made to wait long for construction of the canal and that any further delay in execution of the top court’s decree passed in 2002 will lead to people losing faith in the judicial system.
Punjab, on the other hand, says the decree is not executable, that the canal land returned to the landowners cannot be recovered and that it does not have spare water to share.
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