Acting Punjab governor Kaptan Singh Solanki, who is also Haryana governor, remained non-committal as Punjab politicians led by chief minister Parkash Singh Badal met him here on Tuesday afternoon to seek early assent to the SYL canal land de-acquisition bill passed by the assembly a day earlier.
The bill entails returning to the owners the land acquired by Punjab for the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal project that was started in the 1980s to give water to Haryana. The SYL canal has been stuck as Punjab says it does not have a drop to spare while Haryana insists on having right over the water.
“The governor gave us a patient hearing. He said he had not yet got the copy of the bill (unanimously passed by the Punjab assembly on Monday). He will decide on this. We had to give our view (on the SYL issue),” said Badal who led to the governor the delegation of leaders of various political parties in Punjab. “Water is a serious issue in Punjab. Our industry, trade, farming -- everything is affected by it. Whatever step we have to take, we are taking and will take. For (saving) Punjab’s water, we will take the toughest of steps,” Badal told the media after the meeting.
Badal had, in the Punjab assembly, introduced ‘The Punjab Sutlej Yamuna Link Canal Land (Transfer of Proprietary Rights) Bill, 2016’ to de-notify the land acquired for construction of the SYL canal and return 3,928 acres free of cost to the original landowners. The land was acquired nearly four decades ago. In response, the Haryana government and the assembly said the Punjab bill was “unconstitutional” and a threat to the federal structure. Haryana is seeking additional water from Punjab through the SYL canal.
Sources in the Punjab Raj Bhavan said that Solanki will decide on the controversial bill only after seeking expert opinion. Solanki has been in the midst of a political storm for taking contradictory view on water-sharing and SYL issues in his address to the Punjab and Haryana assemblies in the past one week. The governor’s address to the state assembly is prepared by the state government.
Asked if there was pressure from the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh) and the BJP, an ally of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab and the ruling party in Haryana, Badal evaded the query but said: “I have not met anyone in the RSS. Punjab’s water will remain with it. Under no circumstances will it be allowed to be taken.”
The dispute between Punjab and Haryana over river water-sharing intensified on Monday as the Punjab assembly passed the bill to return the land acquired for the SYL canal and the Haryana assembly, within hours, passing a “unanimous resolution” condemning the move. The Haryana assembly described Punjab’s move as “unilateral, unconstitutional and denying the authority of the Supreme Court, a step only to draw political mileage”. In a resolution, it requested the central government “to annul this illegal and unconstitutional action” (of Punjab).
Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar said he would speak to his Punjab counterpart Badal to express his “displeasure” over the issue. Haryana claims to be a water-deficit state and has said it has been deprived of more than half of its legitimate share of 3.50 MAF (million acre feet) in surplus Ravi-Beas water.
The Supreme Court recently accepted a Haryana government petition for early hearing on the issue.