Chandigarh, November 16: The issue here is not the technicalities but that of invoking the Sikh psyche of defiance to recapture the political space and this is what Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his Deputy Chief Minister son Sukhbir Singh Badal have today attempted with about three months to go for the Assembly elections due in February 2017. Heroism is associated both with martyrdom and defiance and the Sikh history is replete with examples. However, it is a different issue whether what can be seen as this bold and at the same time Machiavellian move would succeed in moving the people again to vote for the second oldest political party in the country that is the Akali Dal that has history of struggle and defiance.
Political impact is different from the vote impact. However, Akali Dal has exhibited defiance while the Congress tried to attain martyrdom by resigning from the Assembly that can also be interpreted as escapism. Udasis were escapists and this Sikh sect was pushed to the margins. The Sikh mainstream has been associated with defiance. Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale emerged as a hero because of the defiance of the Indian state. However, the defiance of the Akali Dal is just symbolic. The real defiance would be taking over the control of headworks over state rivers from where water flows to Rajasthan and Haryana.
In the process, the ruling Akali Dal has travelled back into time, conveniently overlooking the fact that Badal is in his fifth term as the Chief Minister, the first being from March 27, 1970 to June 14, 1971. The issue at the centre of the political discourse at the moment is the dispute over apportionment of Punjab river waters with the neighbouring states.
The ruling Akali Dal-BJP combine moved and adopted two resolutions directing its own government headed by Parkash Singh Badal to take certain steps on this issue that could also lead to confrontation with the judiciary. Unlike Capt Amarinder Singh, who, as the Chief Minister, virtually challenged the Supreme Court and angered his own party high command by adopting the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act to block construction of Satluj Yamuna Link canal whose construction was stopped in 1990 following the gunning down of its chief engineer and superintending engineer in the office and labourers on the work site near Majat village.
It is the resolution on recovering cost of water flowing to Rajasthan and Haryana is significant. This resolution directs the state government to take up this issue with the centre and Haryana and Rajasthan governments. This decision could have been taken by the cabinet itself as the resolution does not empower the state government with additional authority supported by some new legislation.
Ironically, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Madan Mohan Mittal from the Bharatiya Janata Party who moved the resolution did not know the difference between cost and royalty. The resolution has been adopted on the basis of Clause V of the 1955 agreement that apportions surplus waters of Beas and Ravi over and above the pre-partition use between Punjab and Rajasthan. This clause was later forgotten till taken up by independent MLAs Balwinder Singh Bains and Simarjit Singh Bains in the last session of the Assembly.
This clause states: “The question of allocation of cost of water including the cost of storage and other works may be taken up separately as the conference was concerned only with the distribution of supplies.”
Simarjit intervened to point out that the issue was cost and not royalty. The government substituted the word royalty immediately. This betrays the sincerity and seriousness of the government towards this sensitive issue. The government should have been clear about the terminology as the issue involved is billing Haryana and Rajasthan.
The resolution states: “It is a historical truth that before independence, whenever the water was released by one state to another state, which had no right as per the Riparian principle, the royalty was given to the Riparian state for the same. For example, during the British rule, the river waters of Punjab was given twice to another states (sic). Earlier, water of Satluj river was given to Patiala, Nabha and Jind states in 1873 and it was clearly specified in the decision taken that Punjab being a Riparian state, has right over these waters. Therefore, Patiala, nabha and Jind states will have to pay royalty in lieu of water and these states had paid this royalty upto 1945-46. Similarly, for the second time, the water was released to the Bikaner state through Gang Canal on the request of Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner and the Bikaner state paid royalty to the state of Punjab in lieu of that. Therefore, while considering the aforesaid facts, this House strongly recommends to the state government to immediately take up the matter with the central government regarding securing cost (royalty originally) from non-Riparian states in lieu of releasing of river waters to these states without securing anything for the same; so as to undo the injustice and high handedness meted out to the state for decades by Congress led governments in Punjab and at the centre”.
The resolution has not mentioned the fact that the control of headworks from where waters is released to the neighbouring states is with the centre and the Punjab government can’t do anything to recover the aforesaid cost.
This resolution is meaningless without taking over control of headworks. The resolution is thus only for public consumption.
Here is the second resolution moved by Badal on de-notifying SYL Canal land: “House takes the notice of this fact that Punjab needs 56 MAF water for agriculture out of which river waters amount to only 27 per cent of it and that Central Ground Water Commission has already declared 105 out of 138 blocks of Punjab as over-exploited.
“Keeping the interest of the people of Punjab in view, the House unanimously direct Punjab government, cabinet and all other government ministers and officials not to hand over the land of Punjab for construction of Satluj Yamuna Link Canal, neither allow anybody to work on it, nor to cooperate for the said purpose”.
It may be mentioned that the state Assembly had earlier this year adopted legislation for the same purpose and deployed JCBs to fill up the canal to return land to the original owners. The Supreme Court stayed that legislation which the Badal government had failed to endorse from the state Governor that is mandatory.
State Education Minister Daljeet singh Cheema tried to clarify that both the resolutions were binding and their violation would amount to privilege of the House. However, Rule 148 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha states, “A resolution may be in the form of declaration of opinion by the House, or in the form of a specific recommendation addressed to the government”. A recommendation can’t be binding on the state government going by this rule.
Later talking to media persons, Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal defended adoption of resolutions on the logic of avoiding judicial intervention.
Would this rhetoric provide electoral gains to the Akali Dal-BJP combine in the next Assembly election? The Congress lost the 2007 elections to the Akali Dal despite the bold initiative by Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh to enact Punjab Termination of Agreements Act that has been declared invalid by the Supreme Court last week. Earlier, the Akali Dal under Parkash Singh Badal had lost to the Congress in 2002 despite providing free power to the tubewells. The Akali Dal managed to win in 2012 because of a self-goal by Capt Amarinder Singh.
The area that has been neglected the most during the last about two decades is canals. Water courses and minors have been encroached upon and ploughed back by the people. Water had stopped flowing through these channels as the canals got clogged due to criminal neglect. Free power to the tubewells has done more damage than the benefits to the farmers and the state in the long run. The farmers should have been subsidised by refunding the bills rather than not issuing the bills. It may be recalled that power supply to the farm sector was already subsidised when decision was taken to provide free power by Badal in 1997.
AAP is already lost in the cacophony of the river water discourse. This issue is the historical baggage of both the Akali Dal and the Congress and it is these parties that would gain or lose from this issue.