Finding itself in a quandary on the issue of sharing river waters with neighbouring Haryana and Rajasthan, the Punjab government has allowed itself to fall in a trap of doublespeak, saying one thing to the court and quite another to the assembly.
Just when the Punjab government counsel was declaring before the Supreme Court on Wednesday that the state is committed to honouring the water-sharing pact, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal was telling the assembly that Clause 5 of the Punjab Termination of Water Agreements (PTA) Act 2004 violated the riparian principle and Punjab was being forced to share its water with other states.
Badal had been the one to stir up the controversy, immediately after taking over as chief minister, saying he would have the assembly scrap Clause 5 under which Punjab was forced to share water with Haryana and Rajasthan.
Badal has been doing a flip-flop on the issue since coming to power. He had first said he would scrap Clause 5 altogether. Then he softened his stance and said he would consult everyone before doing so. But his government's counsel on Wednesday did a volte-face in the Supreme Court saying the Punjab government would honour all water sharing agreements.
The statement to scrap Clause 5 had led to Haryana knocking on the doors of the Supreme Court to stop Punjab from taking the step.
It was in the context of this plea by Haryana that Punjab counsel Rajiv Dhawan told the apex court bench of Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan and justices RV Ravindran and DK Jain on Wednesday that Punjab would honour the water sharing agreements with neighbouring states.
But Badal was singing a different tune in the assembly at the same time.
"Clause 5 (of PTA Act) violates the riparian principle. What was only a favour to Haryana and Rajasthan has been given constitutional guarantee," Badal asserted.
He said his government was seeking legal opinion on safeguarding Punjab's interests on the issue of river waters.
The PTA Act was brought in the assembly by the previous Congress government led by Amarinder Singh. Even though the move upset Congress bosses at the centre and in neighbouring states, the act became a reality with the Punjab assembly, including the Akali Dal and Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP),passing it unanimously.
Badal went a step further in the assembly on Wednesday when he accused successive central governments of meting out step-motherly treatment to Punjab. He said that while the riparian principle was followed in case of every new state created in the country and all over the world, it was not adhered to in Punjab's case.
"What claim do Haryana and Rajasthan have to water from Punjab when they are hundreds of kilometres away from its rivers," Badal asked.
He said that Congress leaders including Amarinder Singh, who were now raising the river waters issue, were the ones who participated in the foundation stone laying of the controversial Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1982.