Punjab waters Issue : Modi should act like Indira Gandhi in 1981 on river waters issue


Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, November 15: It is a test case for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal as they are the alliance partners. Indira Gandhi intervened in the issue of apportionment of Punjab river waters in favour of Haryana by making the chief ministers of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan sign an ‘agreement’ on December 1981.  Now Badal should seek intervention of the Prime Minister. He can’t take refuge in the argument of being a hostile party in power at the centre as he used to attack the Congress earlier. Akali Dal has a representation in Modi cabinet.

The long awaited Supreme Court verdict on Presidential Reference on Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004 is impacting  electoral dynamics of Punjab. The situation is back to 2004 when the Supreme Court had directed the centre to entrust construction of Satluj Yamuna Link Canal in Punjab territory to some central agency. The construction of this channel stopped when its chief engineer and a superintendent engineer were assassinated by the Babbar Khalsa militants.

The political activity in Punjab is now focussed on this sensitive issue.

Going by the  outcome of the Akali Dal core committee today and that of the state cabinet that followed, the special session of the state Assembly convened on the recommendation of Parkash Singh Badal government on November 16 to confront the challenge posed by the Supreme Court verdict on Satluj Yamuna Link Canal issue is unlikely to address the basic issues.

The two pronged approach that Parkash Singh Badal and his party and government  have adopted, as officially stated, is an appeal to the President Pranab Mukherjee to ignore ‘advice’ rendered by the Supreme Court on Presidential Reference on 2004 legislation enacted by the Congress government headed by Capt Amarinder Singh to annul all the accords and awards on sharing of Punjab river waters with the neighbouring states while providing statutory guarantee under Section V of this legislation to the waters already flowing out of Punjab.

The Cabinet also decided to de-notify the SYL link Canal land and return the same to the original owners, the exercise that was earlier stayed by the Supreme Court. Moreover, Badal had failed to get that legislation signed by the Governor.

The Supreme Court has directed the centre to execute the order given by it in 2004 to hand over the construction of the SYL Canal to a central agency. Capt Amarinder Singh had come up with the legislation to  block that move successfully.

According to sources, the meeting of the core committee was more of an exercise in futility. The resolution adopted at the meeting was the same old narrative. It stated : “Punjab neither has a drop of water of water to spare for any other state, nor is there any legal or constitutional provision by which it can be deprived it of its right over the waters of the rivers that flow through it, nor will even a single drop of water belonging to Punjab be allowed to be taken out of the state”.

It is simply tragic, not just ironical. The core committee again talked of not allowing a single drop of water to flow out when more than 70 per cent of the flow from Satluj, Ravi and Beas has been diverted to  Rajasthan and Haryana. Rajasthan gets Punjab waters through the Bhakra canal system and the Rajasthan Feeder. One fails to understand as to what does the Akali Dal wants to convey to the people in the country. This resolution is a self-defeating exercise. This is the language that the Akali Dal adopted years ago.

Moreover, these arguments have failed to meet legal scrutiny, neither at the level of Eradi Tribunal or the Supreme Court. Record of the detailed arguments is available and is that of the Badal agreeing to the construction of the SYL Canal after he took over as the chief minister in 1977 when his family friend Chaudhary Devi Lal was his counterpart in neighbouring Haryana. All this is part of the record submitted to the Supreme Court too. That record  is Badal’s Achilles heel in this entire narrative beginning the Bhakra Nangal project that was the first violation of Riparian principle.

There is yet another paragraph in the resolution adopted by the core committee that again is the repetition of the narrative rejected at every level time and again. It states: “We stand by the Constitution of India and the Constitution guarantees us absolute and exclusive right over waters of rivers that flow through it”. This is just meaningless. This so called right has been repeatedly violated and none knows it better than Badal himself.

Interestingly, the core committee also  asked the President to ignore the advice of the Supreme Court. The President acts on the advice of the  council of ministers that in practical terms means the Prime Minister.

Capt Amarinder Singh too is leading his parry delegation to the President. The Congress MLAs have already submitted their resignations.

Any gain or loss from this issue is that of either the Akali Dal or the Congress.


Jagtar Singh


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