Kejriwal sails in two boats on Punjab river waters issue



Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, December 12: Every political leader who tries to project himself/herself as the staunchest champion of Punjab river waters by using the same phraseology of ‘not allowing water to flow out of state’ takes it for granted that the people are fools.  Aam Aadmi Party convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal too has joined this bandwagon  of ‘saviours of Punjab waters’. As Delhi Chief Minister, he cannot stop water being supplied for drinking purpose to that semi-state from Punjab rivers. Apparently, he is contradicting himself.

‘Not a drop of water to spare for other states’ has been part of the Punjab political rhetoric for years now. These politicians don’t like to tell the people that about 75 per of the water from Punjab rivers is already flowing out and that ‘under dispute’ is just 1.88 MAF water as per the record.

This has been the case when the first notice for land acquisition was issued in 1979 when the chief minister was Parkash Singh Badal, or when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi laid the foundation stone at Kapoori in Patiala district on April 8, 1982 or Prime Minister Rajib Gandhi and Sant Harchand Singh Longowal signed the Punjab Accord on July 24, 1985. That was the case too when Babbar Khalsa activists gunned down the chief engineer and the superintending engineer in 1990. The construction of this canal was stopped after the killing of workers and top engineers. It could never be started again. Now the canal land has been de-notified when Badal is completing his fifth term as the chief minister. The land has been transferred to the original owners.

This has always been known to the political leadership both in Punjab and Haryana that the SYL Canal was more of a emotive political issue. The neighbouring state has always been drawing part of the allocation of 3.5 MAF made in 1976 through the existing Bhakra canal system. The entire remaining water has been utilised all along.

Kejriwal has been under attack for his studied silence on this sensitive issue that has been revived again to dictate the electoral political discourse. If he keeps up his promise, Delhi would be starved of water as Delhi too has a share from Punjab rivers for drinking purposes.

The problem  with Punjab is that while the political leadership always made it an emotive issue without referring to the water already flowing to Rajasthan and Haryana, the party in power never cared for the existing canal network in the state that has been dying slow death. People have levelled water courses in many areas. The carrying capacity of the canals got reduced overtime due to  choking of the system. Both the Akali Dal and the Congress are responsible for this criminal neglect. Moreover, no state government in the region, Punjab, Haryana or Rajasthan, has ever planned to make optimum use of the available water resources and wastage has been on the higher side.

It is being pointed out  even at the cost of repetition that the issue is not that of 1.88 MAF of water for which the SYL Canal was to be constructed but that of 75 per cent of the water from Punjab river system flowing out to Haryana and Rajasthan. The Bhakra system construction on which started in 1946 was itself the first violation of the Riparian principle. Rajasthan Feeder comes later.

There is another important aspect of this entire controversy in the framework of the Sikh doctrine but then this is not a Sikh issue as some people would like to project. This framework is that of the ‘Sarbat Da Bhala’ doctrine and this aspect was raised by a lawyer at a seminar organised in Chandigarh last week where some people vociferously tried to project it as a Sikh issue. None had any answer to this aspect.

It may be mentioned that the so called national political parties like the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party have allowed their state units from the beginning to take stand on this issue that suits politically. Although the basic issue is not the 1976 allocation between Punjab and Haryana of 3.5 MAF each in 1976, the Congress government in Punjab had lodged its formal protest. It was Congress chief minister Darbara Singh who was made to sign the  ‘agreement’ under gun point by Indira Gandhi on December 31, 1981 to provide legitimacy to 1976 award. However, it was the Congress chief minister Capt. Amarinder Singh whose government annulled all awards and accords in 2004. The situation with reference to SYL Canal is back to pre-2004 legislation.

However, the real issue is not that of SYL Canal. All the three political parties must clarify their positions on this issue of water already flowing to Rajasthan and Haryana. The centre too must come out with a national water policy with focus on water harvesting rather than allowing the passions of people to be raised from Kashmir to Kanya Kumari. Shahpur Kandi dam downstream Ranjit Sagar dam on Ravi river in Punjab needs permission of Kashmir government.


Jagtar Singh


[email protected]

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