SYL canal row explainer: Understanding dispute, turning point and political turmoil
Chandigarh, October 4: The Supreme Court issued a stern reprimand to the Punjab government over its alleged prolonged neglect of a 21-year-old directive to construct its share of the canal connecting the Sutlej and Yamuna rivers. The apex court cautioned the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab, emphasising that they must adhere to its orders or face further consequences. Justice SK Kaul, leading the Bench, insisted that the Punjab government must uphold the decorum expected by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court directed Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann's administration, stressing, "Do not force us to issue strict orders." It also called upon the Central government to facilitate discussions between Punjab and Haryana regarding this matter, considering that Haryana has already completed the construction of its portion of the SYL canal.
The apex court further instructed the Central government to take charge of pre-construction land surveys and scheduled a follow-up hearing for January. The court emphasised the urgency of executing the decree for the canal's construction in Punjab, with the Union of India tasked with estimating the extent of the required construction.
During the hearing, the Punjab government's counsel attributed the delay to opposition party pressure and difficulties in land acquisition from farmers. The Supreme Court replied that while there may be political implications, decisive action must be taken, and the canal must be constructed in Punjab.
This development comes a week after Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann met Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Amritsar and opposed the canal's construction from Punjab's side, considering it a highly emotive issue for the state.
The SYL canal was initially conceived to facilitate the equitable distribution of water resources from the Ravi and Beas rivers. The project's vision included the construction of a 214-kilometer canal, with 122 kilometers designated for development in Punjab and the remaining 92 kilometers within Haryana's territory.
Haryana has successfully completed the construction of the canal in its region, fulfilling its part of the project. In contrast, Punjab, which initially commenced construction in 1982, decided to halt the project at a later point. This contentious issue has remained a subject of legal debate and contention for numerous years, causing tensions between the two states.
On October 4, the Supreme Court issued a significant directive, calling upon the Central government to initiate a land survey in Punjab. This survey's primary purpose was to evaluate the progress of the SYL canal construction within Punjab's borders. During this legal proceeding, Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati conveyed the court's concerns regarding the status of the SYL canal project in Punjab. In response, the Supreme Court deemed it necessary for the Central government to conduct a comprehensive survey to determine the exact extent of the work accomplished in the state.
However, the very next day, the government led by Bhagwant Mann in Punjab issued a resolute statement, firmly rejecting any prospect of constructing the canal. Their stance was grounded in the assertion that the state could not spare any additional water resources to share with Haryana, solidifying the ongoing deadlock in this complex water-sharing dispute.
The SYL canal issue has become a focal point for political contention, aligning opposition parties in Punjab with the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Sukhbir Singh Badal, the chief of the Shiromani Akali Dal, made an earnest appeal to the people of Punjab on Saturday, urging them to prevent any central team seeking to conduct a survey for SYL canal land from entering the state. This plea underscores the collective resistance to external intervention in this matter.
Furthermore, the Congress' Punjab unit chief, Amrinder Singh Raja Warring, expressed a stark warning, stating, "If we are compelled to share any more water, we would essentially be responsible for the agricultural demise of our own state." This reflects the serious implications that the water-sharing dispute holds for Punjab, particularly its agricultural sector, and highlights the unanimous concerns voiced by political leaders in the state.
Haryana Chief Minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, has criticised the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) for its perceived double standards regarding the Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal issue. Khattar expressed his concerns and called on the Punjab Chief Minister, Bhagwant Mann, and the AAP to clarify their stance on this longstanding matter.
He questioned how one government could adopt two contradictory positions, highlighting the need for consistency in governance. Khattar stressed that the AAP should make a clear decision on whether it supports Haryana's perspective or opposes it. He urged the AAP to expand its discussions beyond Punjab Bhawan and consider the broader implications of the SYL canal dispute. Khattar expressed his appreciation for the Supreme Court's recent decision, which set a three-month deadline for the central government to take possession of the land allocated for the SYL canal. He called on the central government to promptly initiate the survey process in Punjab to expedite the construction of the canal.
Haryana's chief minister emphasised the state's willingness to seek solutions through mutual dialogue but criticised Punjab's rigid stance on the SYL canal's construction and water distribution. He pointed out that Punjab has consistently advocated for water-sharing instead of completing the SYL canal. In contrast, in 2002, the Supreme Court issued a decree in favour of Haryana, endorsing the construction of the canal and the equitable sharing of water. This decree clarified that disputes between states would be referred to a tribunal under the "inter-state water disputes Act," as outlined in Article 9.1 and 9.2 of the Parliament.
Furthermore, Khattar emphasised that the dispute over the construction of the SYL canal is not linked to Para 9.3 of the agreement. This distinction underscores that the SYL canal's construction is unrelated to water-sharing among the states and is not a water dispute. The Haryana Chief Minister's statements reflect the complexities of the SYL canal issue and the need for consistent and clear positions on the matter.
- With inputs from agencies