Ground Zero: Modi now promises river waters to Punjab farmers that flow to Pakistan


Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, November 25: Skirting the real issues, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today promised water to Punjab farmers that now flow down to Pakistan under the Indus Water Treaty of 1960 without going into the details. He did not talk of about 75 per cent of the waters from the three Punjab rivers having been diverted to the neighbouring states of Rajasthan and Haryana while making a vague passing reference that such issues should be resolved across the table.

However, there is one very positive aspect. It is for the first time that any prime minister has publicly admitted this grim issue confronting the farmers in this food basket of the country. Modi has maintained studied silence all these months despite the fact that the river water in the region have virtually been on fire for years. The issue of the Satluj Yamuna Link  Canal that is to carry additional waters to Haryana from Punjab has been repeatedly hitting the headlines. Punjab has finally de-notified this canal and Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia has handed over documents of ownership of land to the original owners.

Indus Water Treaty is an international obligation that was worked out at the intervention of the World Bank after years of negotiations. This treat can’t be abrogated unilaterally due to third party role. It is the World Bank that monitors this arrangement. However, India is not using entire waters flowing down to Pakistan from six rivers, including three in the present Punjab, not because that country ever objected to but because of the lack of infrastructure here. Of the five rivers that flow through what used to be the original Punjab, three rivers-Ravi, Beas and Satluj- flow down to Pakistan through Indian Punjab. These three rivers were allocated to India under this treaty and Sind, Jhelum and Chenab to Pakistan. The other three flow through Kashmir, the conflict zone.

The overflow from Ravi, Beas and Satluj, mainly during monsoons can’t be harnessed.

The apportionment of river waters between Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan has defied solution over the decades. The least Modi can do is to undo what was done by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on December 31, 1982 by getting the so called agreement signed among the three states. Punjab chief minister Darbara Singh was told to sign or resign. All the three states were under Congress rule. Once again, it is the same party or alliance that is ruling in three states and at the centre. Modi is as strong as Indira Gandhi. In case an agreement could be signed at the intervention of the prime minister in December 1982, it should be undone under the same rule.

In case Modi refuses to intervene, his sympathy for Punjab farmers would be nothing more than one more Jumlabazi in the run up to the February 217 Assembly elections.

With Modi talking of Indus Water Treaty in context of Punjab, the river waters issue has once again emerged as one of the main issues in the forthcoming election. This would hit the Aam Aadmi Party. It is a different matter that neither Sonia Gandhi nor Rahul Gandhi has taken any position on it. However, state Congress chief Capt Amarinder Singh is the only leader who is known for action on this issue by terminating all the earlier accords and awards by enacting Punjab termination of Agreements Act in 2004 that has now been declared invalid by the Supreme Court.

Modi participated in the second function in the afternoon at Anandpur Sahib organised as part of 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh.

Modi has been parcharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh for whom Guru Gobind Singh is a hero who fought against the Mughal rulers. The RSS people might not follow  secularism and egalitarianism that is part of the doctrine that flows from Guru Nanak with Gobind Singh creating the Khalsa that represents casteless and classless social construct.

One significant shift was observed at the Anandpur Sahib function. After years, Guru Granth Sahib was seen installed at this function. It may be recalled that during the main function organised during tercentenary of the Khalsa in April 14, 1999 at the same venue attended by then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Guru Granth Sahib was not installed on the stage for which Badal had come under strong attack. But then such attacks have never mattered to him.


At another, Modi emitted a very positive signal. That was about extending total support to Parkash Singh Badal whom he praised as the senior most politician in the country. Badal reciprocated the gesture more generously. Impression has been going around all these months that Modi government too was no different than the earlier Congress governments so far as Punjab is concerned. He has tried to reverse that perception but without coming out with something concrete. Now his government would be generous only if the Akali Dal-BJP alliance is voted to power for another term of five years.


Jagtar Singh


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