The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected Punjab government’s request to adjourn the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal issue till after the announcement of the assembly election results on March 11.
A bench headed by justice PC Ghose wondered what the court proceedings had to do with election results when senior advocate Ram Jethmalani made the request. Punjab has to file a response to Haryana government’s accusing the former of having violated a court order to maintain status quo on the land meant for the river water-sharing project. Punjab had denotified the identified area for returning it to farmers, a move put on hold by the SC.
Jethmalani, seeking time to file the affidavit, said that, though the document was ready, it could not be filed because the chief minister, Parkash Singh Badal, was undergoing medical treatment and thus could not vet it. But, the court asked him to complete the formality by February 20, and fixed February 22 to next hear the matter.
Meanwhile, the Centre filed a fresh affidavit before the top court that it had taken all steps subsequent to the earlier two verdicts — delivered in 2002 and 2004. Pursuant to the two directives, the Centre said, it had nominated the central public works department (CPWD) as the central agency within a month for undertaking the canal work. A high-level empowered committee was set up within four weeks for coordinating and facilitating the early implementation of the orders.
But, instead of handing over the land, Punjab passed a law in 2004 to terminate water-sharing agreements with neighbouring states. After 12 years, a Constitution Bench headed by justice AR Dave declared the law unconstitutional on November 10. The ruling came on a Presidential Reference that was made to the top court in 2004 itself. The court had ruled that Punjab could not have taken a unilateral decision to terminate the pact with Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi and Chandigarh on sharing of the Ravi-Beas waters.
Subsequently, the top court had ordered status quo on the land acquired for the construction of canal’s stretch in Punjab and appointed the Union home secretary, and Punjab’s chief secretary and director general of police, as receivers to report on the ground situation.