Death and destruction over 1.88 MAF of Punjab river waters

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Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, November 29: The region has witnessed death and destruction over just about 1.88 MAF of waters that Haryana has been demanding over the years from Punjab rivers. This is as per the 1982 apportionment between Punjab and Haryana under the ‘accord’ signed by the chief ministers of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan on December 31, 1982 in the presence of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Over the years, the waters of the three Punjab rivers -Satluj, Beas and Ravi- turned red. The construction of the Satluj Yamuna Link Canal that was to carry this water to Haryana and also irrigate part of Punjab with two hydel stations planned as part of this project, stopped in 1990 when the Babbar Khalsa militants gunned down its chief engineer and superintendent engineer. Earlier, labourers working on the site had been targeted.

The 1982 accord was about division of 17.17 MAF of waters among the above three mentioned states although Rajasthan was given this water way back in 1955. This apportionment was on the basis of revised flow series. However, according to the 1981-2013 flow series, the flow has been reduced to just 13.38 MAF.  Climate change has impacted the flow in these rivers. Then there is the issue of dependable availability. One newspaper has quoted  Punjab’s retired irrigation department chief engineer Amarjit Singh Dulat who has calculated Haryana’s share from this reduced flow as just 1936 cusecs going by the 1982 ratio. This puts a question mark over viability of the Syl canal project itself at one level. However, even the noises made by the political parties have stopped echoing from its dry bed covered with bushes. People on the two sides have now realised the truth. The area under canal irrigation is just 27 per cent. The Punjab government has failed to maintain even the existing canal network.

Significantly, it is during the meeting of the all-party delegation led by Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar with President Pranab Mukherjee that this figure of 1.88 MAF has been quoted. It is this quantum for which Haryana needs SYL Canal. It is Punjab that should have come out with this figure. However, the Punjab government would have been exposed in the process as Haryana is already drawing 1.62 MAF from its quota of 3.5 MAF through the existing Bhakra system. Rather Haryana has been drawing this water since eighties. The people who mattered then in the Haryana government used to share this information in private way back in 1985 after the Punjab accord was signed under which the Akali Dal made commitment to complete this canal within one year.

All along, Parkash Singh Badal has been misleading the people by saying that not a drop would be allowed to flow to Haryana while that state was already drawing 1.62 MAF more through the existing system. The main supply to Haryana is from the Bhakra Canal system.

The  canal that was known as the SYL Link Canal no more exists in Punjab as this channel got badly damaged due to neglect after its construction stopped. It had cost about Rs 700 crore by that time. Now the cost would be more than double going by the rough estimate. Leaving aside all other considerations, is such a project worthwhile?

The Punjab cabinet led by Badal and all-party delegation from Haryana  presented their case to the President as it was this office that had referred the Punjab termination of Agreements Act, 2004, to the Supreme Court for advice on ins validity. The Supreme Court has declared this legislation invalid. The 2004 directive of the Supreme Court to hand over the construction of this channel to the central agency and to the Punjab government to hand over the land now stands. Haryana has to get that order of the apex court implemented.

The powers of the President are very clear under the Constitution.

Here goes Article 74: “Council of Ministers to aid and advise President- There shall be a Council of Ministers with prime Minister at the  head to aid and advise the President, who shall, in the exercise of his functions, act in accordance with such advice. Provided that the President may require the Council of Ministers to reconsider such advice, either generally or otherwise, and the President shall act in accordance with the advice tendered after such reconsideration.”

In this context, Punjab should seek intervention of the Prime Minister and press for the reopening of at least the 1982 agreement, if not the 1955 one that apportioned 8.0 MAF Ravi-Beas waters to Rajasthan to which Punjab never objected.

It is the centre that should come forward with capital investment in water harvesting to tide over the problem of water for irrigation and also to make optimum use of the existing resources.

It is this capital investment in water harvesting under a national project that should be the priority rather than luring the farmers by promising loan waiver that is a short term measure to deal with the farm crisis.

Editor-in-Chief

Jagtar Singh

+91-9779711201

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