SYL Canal ball is now in Modi’s court


Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, November 11: While both the ruling Akali Dal and the opposition Congress are trying to out-compete each other in the populist politics in the name of defending interests of the Punjab farmers, one would have to go back to the June 4, 2004 directive of the Supreme Court to the centre to hand over construction of the jinxed Satluj Yamuna Link Canal to a central agency.

With yesterday’s verdict of the apex court declaring the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004 as unconstitutional, the obvious interpretation is that it amounts to maintaining status quo as on June 4, 2004. Then Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh had come up with the weapon of the Punjab Termination of Agreements Acts to counter the apex court directive.

The Supreme Court in 2004 had directed the Centre to construct the unfinished portion of controversial Sutlej Yamuna Link  Canal in the territory of Punjab to carry waters from that state to Haryana. The court had ordered the Union Government to appoint a Central Agency within four weeks for the execution of the work.

The court had rejected Punjab’s counter-suit challenging the January 15, 2002, decree of the court by way of which the state was to construct the SYL by January 15, 2003. It also imposed a cost for filing the suit on Punjab, which was not specified in the order and had to be calculated by the Registry.

The court had further directed the centre to appoint, within one month, a special committee of officials with representatives from both states, Punjab and Haryana, to supervise the construction work that was to be started at the earliest.

The Punjab Government was also directed to hand over the land on which the unfinished canal was to be built, to the Central Agency within two weeks of its appointment.

Besides, the Punjab Government was ordered by the court to provide adequate security to the officials of the executing agency and the construction workers to be engaged by it.

The executing agency was directed to prepare a new map of the canal for the area where the job had to be completed on the basis of a fresh survey by keeping in mind that no damage was caused to the green belt falling in the way.

The issue went to the Supreme Court again under Presidential Reference. It may be mentioned that Capt. Amarinder Singh had managed to get the signature of the Governor within hours of enactment of the Bill in the Assembly. The President had intervened when the matter was referred to him. He forwarded it to the Supreme Copurt as Presidential Reference.

Now both the Akali Dal and the Congress have sought appointment with the President to present the state’s case separately. This is a case that should have been taken up with the President by all party delegations. Of course, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has every right to approach the President in his official capacity. However, an all-party delegation would have been more effective.

At another level, the matter now  directly concerns the Modi government in which the Akali Dal is a partner. The role of the President apparently ends after Supreme Court verdict declaring the 2004 legislation unconstitutional while disposing off Presidential Reference.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi effected out of court settlement by making the chief ministers of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan to sign December 31, 1981 apportionment that enhanced Punjab’s share slightly on what was described as the revised flow series according to which the total available surplus of Ravi and Beas waters was assessed at 17.17 MAF as against 15.85 MAF in 1955.

The case was with the Supreme Court at that time too. Haryana had approached the apex court to get the 1976 award implemented. Punjab later filed its petition challenging Sections 78-80 of the Punjab Re-organisation Act, 1966. Punjab Chief Minister Darbara Singh was pressured to sign the agreement and subsequently with the case from the Supreme Court. That was done in view of the forthcoming Assembly elections in Haryana. In case the case had been allowed to be settled by the Supreme Court, it is just possible that the situation might have been different.

It is because of this reason that the ball is in the Modi’s court. It is the BJP that is ruling at the centre in which the Akali Dal is a partner. It is the BJP that is in power in both Haryana and Rajasthan.

If Badal can’t this issue settled now, the Akali Dal should quit this alliance. It is a test both for Badal and Modi at the political level.


Jagtar Singh


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