Sutlej Yamuna Link canal has to be constructed: SC tells Punjab govt.

syl-canalThe Supreme Court on Wednesday made it clear that state of Punjab would have to comply with its order on construction of Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) canal, saying the ongoing controversy over the project must be brought to an end at the earliest. Supreme Court says verdict allowing construction of the canal has to be executed, asks Haryana and Punjab to maintain law and order “at any cost”.


A bench of Justices P C Ghose and Amitava Roy said that it would not accept any excuse of the state government for not implementing its order. The court said that it would pass order on execution of its decree if warring states of Punjab and Haryana failed to come to an agreeable solution.

The Supreme Court will hear the Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal issue at length on 2nd of March. The court also declined the Punjab Government’s demand of hearing the matter after the counting of Votes on 11th March. The court said the issue can not wait for long and it needs to be resolved soon.

Meanwhile, the Indian National Lok Dal has announced a march to the Kapoori village to again dig up the controversial tunnel on February 23, has given a new twist to the controversy. Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal has criticised INLD’s announcement.

A huge posse of police personnel has been deployed at the Haryana-Punjab border in view of INLD’s threat.

Court’s statement

“There are two orders by the court earlier and also a reference on the issue. Canal has to be constructed. The decree has to be executed either through legal process or parties themselves sit together and find out a solution. If Haryana and Punjab fail to sort out then we have to pass order,” the bench said.

The court said that the controversy had been going on for years and it was time to bring the curtains down on the dispute to pave the way for construction of canal. “Enough is enough. We are keen to finish it. We don’t want to keep the matter pending,” the bench said while rejecting the plea of Punjab government requesting the court to post the case after March 11 when the election result of assembly polls would be declared.

Background

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  • The Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) was one of the key issues in the high-octane Punjab elections, which were held earlier this month.
  • The issue of sharing water from Ravi-Beas is nearly 6 decades old. After the formation of Haryana in 1976, the centre directed Punjab governments to release 3.5 million Acre feet water to Haryana, successive Punjab governments have refused to share water.
  • Construction of the Sutlej Yamuna link river began to facilitate that water sharing arrangement. But Punjab stopped the construction work when 95% of the construction was completed. Haryana took this issue to the Supreme Court in 1986.

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  • In the year 2004 Punjab termination of agreements act was passed and eight months ago, the SAD-BJP government passed another law to return the land acquired on its side for the Sutlej Yamuna link (SYL) canal, which was to carry Haryana’s share of water, to its owners. When Haryana sought its intervention, the Supreme Court called for status quo. On Thursday, the court junked the 2004 law, terming it “unconstitutional”. The issue is pending in the Apex Court.

What is the river-water row?

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After the erstwhile Punjab was reorganised into Punjab and Haryana on November 1, 1966, differences arose between the two states over their share of the surplus Ravi and Beas waters. While Haryana claimed 4.8 million acre feet (MAF) of water of the total 7.2 MAF (share of the erstwhile Punjab) on the principle of equitable distribution, the Punjab government did not agree. Haryana approached the Centre, which issued a notification on March 24, 1976, spelling out the rights and liabilities of the states. Haryana was allocated 3.5 MAF of waters.

Why is the SYL canal important?

  • The 212km-long SYL canal was to carry Haryana’s share of water to its “dry and arid” southern part. While 121km of the canal was to run through Punjab, the remaining 91km through Haryana, which completed the work in June 1980.
  • Around Rs 250 crore were spent on the canal system. Haryana also gave Rs 1 crore to Punjab in November 1976, the first instalment of the Rs 192 crore it would give the neighbour over the years for building the canal. However, Punjab did not start the work. Both the state filed separate petitions in the Supreme Court in 1979.

What made Punjab start construction?

  • Punjab began the work on the canal after a tripartite agreement. Though the petitions were pending in the court, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi met the chief ministers of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan on December 31, 1981. The three CMs signed an agreement that saw an increase in the available Ravi-Beas waters from 15.85 MAF to 17.17 MAF.
  • The agreement allowed Punjab the use of Rajasthan’s share till it could spare the water, allowing the state an additional 1.32 MAF. Punjab agreed to complete the canal work within two years and the two states withdrew the petitions from the Supreme Court. On April 8, 1982, Indira Gandhi led the ground-breaking ceremony near Kapuri village in Patiala district.

What was the Rajiv-Longowal accord?

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  • Within weeks of the ground-breaking ceremony, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) launched an agitation against the canal under the leadership of Sant Harchand Singh Longowal. They followed it up with protests. In August 1982, the agitation was converted into a “Dharam Yudh (holy war)”. The agitation took a violent turn, plunging the state into chaos.
  • On July 24, 1985, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Longowal signed the Punjab accord in New Delhi. The agreement called for completion of the canal by August 1986 and an SC judge-led tribunal to decide Punjab and Haryana’s share of the remaining water. In its report submitted in January 1987, the tribunal increased the share of both the states but the award was not notified.

What did Punjab suspend construction?

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  • The SS Barnala-led SAD government started the work and 90% of it was completed, costing around Rs 700 crore. But the construction was stopped when Sikh militants gunned down two senior engineers and 35 labourers working on the canal.
  • On November 23, 1990, the Haryana CM asked the Centre to hand over the work to one of its agencies. A decision was taken to rope in the Border Roads Organisation, but not a brick has been laid since. In September 1996, Haryana filed a plea in the Supreme Court, seeking directions for Punjab to complete the canal.

When were the inter-state agreements annulled?

Farmers of Jhansla village in Patiala district levelling the SYL canal with the help of earthmoving machines in March this year, after the Punjab assembly passed a bill providing for transfer of proprietary rights to the original owners.
Farmers of Jhansla village in Patiala district levelling the SYL canal with the help of earthmoving machines in March 2016, after the Punjab assembly passed a bill providing for transfer of proprietary rights to the original owners.
  • The court, in January 2002 and June 2004, ordered the remaining portion of the canal to be completed. The Centre was on June 4, 2004 told to ask one of it agencies to take control of the canal work. But a month later, the Punjab assembly enacted the Punjab termination of agreements act, annulling all inter-state agreements on sharing Ravi and Beas waters.

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