Punjab clock turns back to August 4, 1982


Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, November 10: Punjab’s river waters dispute with the neighbouring states of  Haryana and Rajasthan has once again  hit the centre stage of the politico-electoral discourse with the Supreme Court today announcing its verdict declaring Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004, invalid.

Within minutes of the verdict, Capt Amarinder Singh, Congress Lok Sabha MP from Amritsar, mailed his resignation to the Speaker. The Congress MLAs would do the same tomorrow. This 2004 legislation was enacted when Capt Amarinder Singh was the chief minister. In a bold move, his legislation cancelled all the earlier awards and accords on river waters with Haryana and Rajasthan but significantly, provided statutory guarantee under Section V of this Act to the waters already flowing to these two states. This had happened for the first time in the history of dispute. The 2004 Act was mainly to block construction of Satluj Yamuna Link Canal to Haryana, the foundation stone of which was laid by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on April 8, 1982 at Kapoori provoking Akali Dal to launch its morcha at the venue. It was this morcha that was shifted to Amritsar as the Dharam Yudh Morcha  from August 4, 1982 that ended with Operation Bluestar, the army attack on the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar.

There is a long history of this problem. The year was 1955. The centre convened a meeting of Punjab and Rajasthan to divide the Punjab river waters. The total available surplus of Ravi and Beas waters over and above pre-partition use was estimated at  15.85 MAF. Out of this flow, Rajasthan was allocated 8.00 MAF, Punjab 7.20 MAF and Jammu and Kashmir 0.65 MAF. More than 50 per cent of the available surplus was diverted to Rajasthan at that stage itself.  Significantly, river Ravi forms the boundary between Indian Punjab and Pakistani Punjab in some areas and its flow can’t be diverted to Rajasthan. Only part of it is now diverted to Beas through Madhopur-Beas link. Entire Satluj water was to be used by the Bhakra project in which Rajasthan also had its share.  The major command area of Bhakra project is also in Haryana and Rajasthan.

This is the basic crux of the issue of Punjab’s river water dispute with the neighbouring states of Haryana and Rajasthan.

The Indus Waters Treaty with Pakistan was signed in 1960 on this basis under which Satluj, Beas and Ravi became available to India for unrestricted use after March 31, 1970.

Under the Punjab Re-organisation Act, Haryana claimed 4.8 MAF in 1967-68 that was rejected by Punjab. As the two states failed to reach an agreement within the stipulated period of two years, the Government of India constituted a committee in April, 1970 to determine the share of the two states which recommended 3.78 MAF for Haryana. The Planning Committee, in March 1973, recommended 3.74 MAF for Haryana but that again was not acceptable to both the states as Haryana staked its claim to 4.8 MAF. The Central Water Commission in 1974 recommended sharing of Beas project waters on 50:50 basis. The centre intervened and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi issued her award on March 24, 1976 allocating 3.5 MAF each to Punjab and Haryana out of total surplus Ravi Beas waters of 7.2 MAF with Delhi getting 0.2 MAF for drinking water supply on the recommendation of Central Water Commission.

Thus out of its total Ravi and Beas waters of 15.85 MAF at the time of partition, Punjab was left with just 3.70 MAF. There would not be any other example of such extreme exploitation of river waters of any state in 1976.

This was revised again on December 31, 1981 on the basis of revised flow series that assessed the flow at 17.17 MAF. The share of Punjab was revised to 4.22 MAF. Punjab was left with just about 25 per cent of the share from the rivers that flow through the state.

However, it the period of the Akali Dal government from 1977-80 that is very significant on the issue of this canal. The Chief Minister was Parkash Singh Badal.

The Badal government wrote a letter to Haryana No. 7/78 –IW (I) -78/23617 dated July 4, 1978 seeking Rs 3 crore for starting this project.  In case Badal was opposed to the 1976 apportionment, how come that this letter was written? The Haryana government sent another cheque of Rs 1 crore on March 31, 1979.  Before writing the letter, the Punjab government issued notices No. 113/5/SYL and No. 121/5/SYL February 20, 1978 for the acquisition of land for this project under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.

This notification invoked urgency provision stating, “Further in exercise of the powers under the said Act, The Governor of Punjab is pleased to direct that action under Section 17 of the aforesaid, shall be taken in this case on the grounds of urgency and provisions of sections 5(a) will not apply with regards to acquisition of the said land”.

The Haryana Assembly record corroborates complicity of Badal in laying the foundation stone for this canal. The Governor  announced in his Address on the opening day of the budget session of the Haryana Assembly on February 27, 1978 that “It is hoped that work on this project would be speeded up as process for land acquisition has already been initiated”.

Then there is the statement of Haryana Chief Minister Chaudhary Devi Lal on March 1, 1978 in the Assembly: “Mr Speaker, I want to draw attention of Rao Sahib through you that his Congress has been in power in Punjab, Haryana and the centre for the last seven years but failed to resolve this issue. So much so that no decision could be arrived at even to acquire land. The result of our personal relations ( Between Devi Lal and Badal) is before you as they have issued notification for land acquisition….The notification states: ‘Whereas it appears to the Governor of Punjab that land is likely to be acquired for public purpose namely for construction of Satluj Yamuna Link canal in village Kamalpur and Sarala Kalan, Tehsil Rajpura, district Patiala’.

Rao Birender Singh: This notification is under what section?

Chaudhary Delvi Lal :This is Sections 4 and 17 notification. I would also like to inform Rao Sahib that  I was to preside over the function and Badal Sahib was to inaugurate it but has been delayed due to  session”.

This was the function to lay the foundation stone for the SYL Canal. It was after foundation stone laying ceremony was dumped at the intervention  by Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee chief Gurcharan Singh Tohra that Haryana moved the Supreme Court on April 30, 1979 for the implementation of the 1976 award. Punjab also approached the apex court on July 11, 1979 challenging ultra vires of Section 78 to 80 of the Punjab Re-organisation Act as well as the 1976 apportionment.   This Punjab had approached the Supreme Court only after Haryana sought the judicial intervention. This dispute had entered a new phase. The Badal government was dismissed February 17, 1980.  Next was the Congress government headed by Darbara Singh.

Indira Gandhi forced  Darbara Singh to sign the revised accord with his Haryana and Rajasthan counterparts on December 31, 1981 on the basis of what was given as the revised flow series of 1921-59 according to which the surplus was estimated to be at 17.17 MAF as against 15.85 MAF on the basis of earlier 1921-45 flow series. Punjab’s share was notionally enhanced from 3.50 MAF to 4.22 MAF in 1981. Darbara Singh was threatened to sign or resign.

It was in the context of the Haryana Assembly elections that Indira Gandhi laid the foundation stone of the SYL Canal on April 8, 1982 at Kapoori in Patiala district near state’s border with Haryana. She wanted to harvest political advantage in Haryana.

Haryana had completed its 91 km portion of the SYL Canal by June 1980 at a cost of Rs. 30 crore the work on which had been started immediately after the 1976 award. This canal was to merge with the Western Yamuna Canal near Karnal.

Since Punjab was also to derive some incidental benefits from the SYL Canal by way of power generation and irrigation, the cost was to be shared between Punjab and Haryana in the ratio of 1:5 on ad hoc basis. The total cost incurred on this project till March, 1995 was 521 crore as against the 1993 revised cost of Rs 601.25 crore.

When Rajiv Gandhi took over as the prime minister after  assassination of his mother Indira Gandhi, he opted to end confrontation with the Sikhs and initiated reconciliation process that ended up in the signing of Punjab Accord between him and Akali Dal chief Sant Harchand Singh Longowal on July 24, 1985 which later ended up as defunct. It was the Akali Dal commitment to complete this canal by August 13, 1986-87. Here was another act of treachery with the people in the state by the Akali Dal.

Para 9 of Punjab Accord on waters:

9.1 The farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan will continue to get water not less than what they are using from the Ravi Beas system as on July 1, 1985. Water used for consumptive purposes will also remain unaffected. Quantum of usage claimed shall be verified by the Tribunal referred to in para 9.2 below.

9.2 The claims of Punjab and Haryana regarding the share of their remainder waters will be referred to for adjudication to a Tribunal to be presided over by a Supreme Court judge. The decision of this Tribunal will be rendered within six months and would be binding on both parties. All legal and constitutional steps in this respect to be taken expeditiously.

9.3 The construction of the SYL Canal shall continue. The canal shall be completed by August 13, 1986-87.

The work on this canal was abandoned due to the gunning down of its chief engineer M L Sekhri and superintending engineer Avtar Singh Aulakh by the militants on July 23, 1990 in their office in Chandigarh. By that time, about 90 per cent of the work had already been completed.

It was following the directive from the Supreme Court to complete this carrier that that the Amarinder government came out with The 2004 Act that has been annulled by the apex court.

The Badal government went a step ahead by enacting The Punjab Satluj Yamuna Link Canal Land (Transfer of Property Rights) Bill  March 14, 2016 to restore land of this canal to the original owners. The Supreme Court stayed that legislation.

Now the situation is back to August 4, 1982 when the Akali Dal launched the Dharam Yudh Morcha.


Jagtar Singh


[email protected]

Related Editorials