10 reasons to worry about Satluj-Yamuna Link row between Punjab and Haryana

Vipin Pubby
Vipin PubbyMar 16, 2016 | 15:15

10 reasons to worry about Satluj-Yamuna Link row between Punjab and Haryana

1. The decision of the Supreme Court earlier this month to take up the Presidential reference sent to it 12 years ago set the ball rolling for escalation of tension over the issue involving Punjab and Haryana. The highly emotive issue of water between the two states had led to violence and agitations in the past and can impact the political discourse for the Assembly elections due in less than a year in Punjab.

2. The Presidential reference pertained to a Legislation passed by the Punjab Assembly in July 2004 called the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act which unilaterally cancelled all the agreements of Punjab with neighbouring states in sharing of Satluj, Ravi and Beas rivers, thus making the construction of Satluj-Yamuna Link (SYL) infructuous. What caused immediate concern in Punjab was the stand taken by the Centre in the apex court which sided with Haryana as it opposed the Punjab legislation.

3. For the coalition government in Punjab, comprising Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the NDA government's stand was all the more a rude setback. With Assembly elections knocking at its doors, the stance of the Centre was untenable. Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal had been repeatedly saying that the state did not have a drop of water to spare and state Congress chief Capt Amarinder Singh had been opposing tooth and nail flow of any water to Haryana.

4. Since the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act was passed by the Congress government led by Capt Amarinder Singh, there was no way the Badal government could have been seen to compromise the state's interests in case the Supreme Court had ruled against the Punjab Act. The 2004 Agreement, for which Capt Amarinder Singh was hailed as the "saviour" of water,  was passed by the Punjab Assembly unanimously with the support of the Akalis.

5. Virtually preempting any expected adverse advise by the Supreme Court, which was expected in view of the blatant and one sided termination of bilateral and trilateral agreements, the Badal government has hit the final nail on SYL's coffin by bringing in and passing the Punjab Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal Land (Transfer of Propriety Rights) Bill, 2016. It provided for return of the 5,376 acres of land acquired for the incomplete SYL canal to the land owners thus ruling out any further construction of the canal.

6. The controversial SYL canal issue, whose origin can be traced back to the partition of the country and subsequently the reorganisation of states in 1966 when Haryana was carved out of composite Punjab, has led to much bad blood in the past. About 90 per cent of of the 212 kilometres long canal is lying complete which has cost over Rs 700 crore of public money.

7. Its construction and water dispute between Punjab and Haryana was one of the emotive issues which had given rise to the militancy with the radical Sikhs citing it as one of the instances of "discrimination" against Punjab. The project's chief engineer and superintending engineer were killed by militants and 35 labourers working on its site were massacred leading to stoppage of construction work in 1990. Since then large portions of the unused constructed canal have been extensively damaged.

8. Ironies abound in the history related to the canal. Akalis were part of the tripartite agreement between Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan in 1981 and also when the Rajiv-Longowal Accord was signed in 1995. Acquisition of land for SYL canal began in February 1978 when the chief minister was Parkash Singh Badal. On the other hand Capt Amarinder Singh, who initiated termination of agreements, had hailed the foundation stone laying ceremony of the canal by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1982.

9. For the common governor of Punjab and Haryana Prof Kaptan Singh Solanki, it was highly embarrassing to first speak in favour of Punjab's stand in the state Assembly and within a week favour Haryana's stand while opening that state's Assembly session this month. He has so far not ratified Punjab's Bill and is likely to refer it to the President.

10. With bugle already sounded by major political parties for the Punjab Assembly elections, and the radicals seeking an opportunity to fish in troubled waters, the waters issue can lead to high tension. Although the parties and groups in Haryana have so far shown restraint but the ongoing jat agitation too has the potential of raking up the contentious issue in the state. Over all an explosive situation may be building up over the issue which would require sensitive handling.

Last updated: March 16, 2016 | 15:15
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