In a refreshing show of unity, Punjab’s legislative assembly on Monday approved a law to transfer “free of cost” the entire 5,376-acre land to the owners that was acquired for the Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal over three decades back by giving Rs 35 crore compensation.
The opposition Congress hailed ‘the Punjab Sutlej Yamuna Link Canal Land (Transfer of Proprietary Rights) Bill-2016’ that chief minister Parkash Singh Badal brought in the assembly as a “very big decision” and “fully supported” the Akali Dal-BJP government’s move which has created ripples in Haryana.
This Bill has a bearing on sharing of the Ravi-Beas waters over which Punjab and Haryana have been at loggerheads since decades.
Haryana is seeking its “rightful share” in the Ravi-Beas water through the SYL canal. But, Punjab has consistently taken ‘not-even-a drop-to spare’ stand.
The Bill on SYL canal is the second most significant step of Punjab assembly after it passed the Termination of Agreements Act in 2004 to annul all inter-state agreements pertaining to Ravi and Beas waters. On this 212-km yet-to-be-fully constructed canal–121 km in Punjab and 91 km in Haryana—the governments have spent nearly Rs 9,00 crore.
“Neither there is water nor this canal would be constructed. We have decided to return the acquired land. We must not take back the money (compensation given to owners) from the landowners. We should return the acquired land free of cost to the farmers,” chief minister Badal said as he moved the Bill amid thumping of the benches by legislators.
The terms and conditions of the process to be followed in transferring the de-notified land to the owners or their successors will be notified separately later.
Reiterating his “Punjab is facing water crisis and we don’t have a drop to spare” stand, Badal sought Congress’ support, reminding the opposition the “significance” of this bill.
However, even as Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Charanjit Singh Channi categorically backed the Bill, some Congress legislators resorted to sloganeering, while senior Congress MLA Jagmohan Singh Kang decided to sit on the well of the House. When the Bill was passed by voice vote and without debate, some Congress veterans such as Lal Singh supported the move by raising both hands. But, a section of the visibly confused Congress leaders were protesting and claiming that government got the idea of bringing this bill from the opposition.
“My request to all of you is to show large heart. Don’t be miser while supporting this bill. I had given unconditional support to (Captain) Amarinder (Singh on Termination of Agreements Act in 2004). All of us should be united on this matter,” Badal said, taking a dig at the protesting Congress leaders.
Now, the ball is in the court of Governor Kaptan Singh Solanki who is holding additional charge of Punjab. On Tuesday all the legislators of Punjab will call on Solanki urging him to give assent to the bill.
Decoding the SYL Bill
*The Punjab SutlejYamuna Link Canal Land (Transfer of Proprietary Rights) Bill-2016 l provides for transfer of proprietary rights to the land owners from whom land was acquired by state government for construction of SutlejYamuna Link (SYL) main canal.
* Transfer of Land: “Notwithstanding anything contained contrary in any law for the time being in force, on and from the commencement of this Act, the proprietary rights on the land shall stand transferred to the land owners on such terms and conditions as the state government may notify,” says the Bill.
* The record of rights will stand amended and automatically modified by the concerned revenue authorities.
* The Bill says “land” will mean the land that was notified by the state government and the ownership of which was transferred to the state government “in any manner” for SYL canal construction.
* The “land-owners” mean “owner of the land or his successors-in-interest” from whom the land was acquired in any manner by Punjab government in the department of irrigation.
* A suitable mechanism will be notified for settlement of claims of any landowner. The settlement of claims in due course will not in any manner affect the transfer of land in favour of the landowners in the record of rights.
* The provisions of this Act and the rules made under it will have overriding effect “not-withstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in any other Act, rule, judgement, decree, notification, or any other instrument having force of law.”
* The section 8 of the Bill empowers the state government to make rules to carry out the purposes of this Act.