Issue is not 1.88 MAF of waters but politics of waters between Punjab and Haryana

Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, September 9: More than the river waters apportionment between Punjab and Haryana has been the political positions that are not just illogical but also irrational and violate all cannons of water management and conservation. It is just 1.88 MAF of waters that Haryana has been demanding ever since the so called agreement forced by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on December 31, 1981 on the  chief minister of Punjab that was signed by the three states, including Rajasthan. However, the work on the construction of the Satluj Yamuna Link Canal to carry its share of 3.5 MAF to Haryana was started earlier by Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal during his second term beginning 1977 and it is a matter of record that he can’t deny.

Indira Gandhi had apportioned 3.5 MAF each to Punjab and Haryana while making intervention under Section 78-80 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966  during Emergency in 1976 under which the construction of SYL Canal started in Haryana.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi invites Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh and his Haryana counterpart Manohar Lal Khattar, he would have to proceed in this background of heightened passions in the two states that have been raised over the years by the political class without trying to be pragmatic.

The Supreme Court has given six weeks to the centre to make Punjab and Haryana arrive at the agreement. The apex court had earlier ruled that Punjab must complete the carrier channel before assessing latest flow in Punjab rivers that amounts to putting cart before the horse.

 It was the undue hurry shown by then Haryana chief minister Bansi Lal to start construction of the SYL  Canal that turned this ill-conceived project into prestige issue. There is no need the repeat that this is one project in India that has taken so many lives, including that of its chief engineer and superintending engineer in Punjab, besides a number of labourers.

The Supreme Court has been involved over the years in this dispute but it is the completion of the Punjab part of this career channel that has been insisted upon both by the Supreme Court as well as the successive governments at the centre.

Why not take up this canal issue purely from economic and water management aspects? No cost benefit analysis was ever undertaken of this canal. Water is used at a place where its output is optimum and that is always near the source. This has been the historical experience in the world. It is pertinent to mention that the wastage in the Rajasthan Canal that carries water from Punjab to the desert state is about 40 per cent by way of waterlogging and evaporation. The capacity of this canal is 8  MAF. Moreover, it has lift system at several places that multiplies the cost of this water.

It was way back in 1985 when this writer used to cover Haryana as The Indian Express staffer that a  pragmatic political leader who part of the government confided that Haryana was already drawing the surplus available with Punjab through the existing Bhakra system depending upon the requirement. He asserted SYL  Canal was only a prestige issue and it would be suicidal for the political class in the two states to shift positions. The result has been disastrous.

This is the amount of water that can be procured from other sources and that would involve lesser investment as compared to the completion of the SYL Canal. The Punjab portion that was about 90 per cent completed has been irreparably damaged as work on it stopped in 1990.

Why can’t the Modi government invest on water harvesting and conservation both in Punjab and Haryana to provide much needed relief to the farmers? It is the excess water during monsoon that flows down to Pakistan. It is this water that needs to be harnessed and this amount would be much more than 1.88 MAF.  Moreover, a large amount of Ganga waters flows down to the Bay of Bengal. Why not divert part of it to Haryana?

About 70 per cent of the waters from the three Punjab rivers is already flowing to Rajasthan and Haryana. The Punjab politicians mislead the people by asserting that not a drop would be allowed to flow to Haryana and Rajasthan. They just don’t talk about this 70 per cent and it is this political discourse that has damaged Punjab.

Both Punjab and Haryana would have to shift from their positions and stop misleading the people on this sensitive issue.

Moreover, in case the issue is that of more water for Haryana, that can be resolved by adopting latest techniques of water harvesting that are being followed by countries like Israel.

Peace in Punjab has always been fragile.


Jagtar Singh


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