Punjab assembly on Wednesday passed two unanimous resolutions against construction of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal and sharing “even a drop of river water” with Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi, in a move that the Akali Dal-BJP government described as “final burial” of the contentious canal.
The assembly was convened for a special one-day session following a Supreme Court ruling last week that declared as “unconstitutional” a 2004 state law that scrapped all water-sharing arrangements with neighbouring states, including Haryana.
Even as the Congress, the principal opposition party, stayed away from the assembly session, the Parkash Singh Badal government further hardened its stand over river water-sharing pacts.
The first resolution that chief minister Badal moved directed the state government—CM, cabinet ministers, all government officers and officials—not to “hand over land of Punjab to any agency” for SYL canal construction and “not to allow anyone to work for the construction” of this canal.
In the second resolution, the House directed the state government to demand “cost/royalty” payment from other states—Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi—for the river water supplied to them in past five decades after Punjabi Suba was created on November 1, 1966.
The resolutions were adopted in the absence of 42 Congress legislators who resigned last week to protest the top court’s ruling.
With assembly polls due early next year, the issue is likely to emerge as a major poll plank for all the political parties. In this blame game, the opposition parties led by the Congress has blamed the Badal government for failing to protect the state’s interests in the apex court, and the ruling Akali Dal-BJP government held Congress governments at the Centre and in Punjab responsible for sacrificing state’s interests.
At the heart of water dispute is the 212-km-long SYL canal, meant to transfer water from the two rivers to Haryana. It is among at least seven major water-sharing wrangles between 10 Indian states, some of which have even led to violence.
“I will rather shed every drop of my blood than allow even a single drop of water to flow out of my state in defiance of the riparian principle,” Badal said in the assembly, reiterating that no water will be allowed to flow to Haryana.
“We will not implement the court order at any cost. Not a drop of water from Punjab will be given to anyone even if we have to go to jail,” Badal said in the assembly.
Describing the two adopted resolutions as “historic decisions”, deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal said the House had given “final burial” to the SYL canal. “Now, we are bound by the House resolutions. Anyone daring to violate them will attract severe punishment under the contempt/privilege law of the assembly,” he said.
“The canal chapter is now closed. These two directions are the most powerful weapons assembly has used,” Sukhbir said.
Wednesday’s twin resolutions came a day after government set the stage for a constitutional confrontation with the Supreme Court. Punjab cabinet on Tuesday de-notified 5,376 acres of land that was acquired for the SYL canal and returned it to its original owners free of cost.
“Farmers are owners of this land. They are free to do whatever they want,” the deputy CM said, claiming that there was no court stay on returning acquired SYL land to the rightful owners.
Amid the escalating water row between Punjab and Haryana, BJP legislators from Haryana on Wednesday met Punjab governor VP Singh Badnore to seek blocking of the Punjab government’s move to de-notify the acquired land. Led by Haryana BJP president Subhash Barala, the BJP legislators urged the governor not to give his assent to the move.
Haryana has a BJP government and in Punjab, the BJP is an alliance partner with the ruling SAD since 2007.
First resolution: No work on canal
“Whereas Punjab has legislative and executive right over the whole land falling under its boundaries as per the entry number 14 and 18 of the state list of the 7th Schedule of the Constitution of India”.
“Whereas Punjab has also legislative and executive right over water supply, irrigation and canals, drains, pathways, water reservoirs and hydro electricity as one entry No. 56 of the same Schedule according to entry No. 17 of the state list of the 7th Schedule of the Constitution”.
“House takes notice of this fact that Punjab needs 56 MAF of water for agriculture, out of which river waters amount to only 27% and that the Central Ground Water Commission had already declared 105 out of 138 blocks as overexploited”.
“Without requisite waters, Punjab, which is the grain bowl of India, is continuously becoming barren and resultantly posing a threat to national food security and state economy”.
“The House takes a serious view of the fact that Punjab is already falling short of its canal water needs and farmers of Punjab are facing serious water crisis”.
“Keeping in view the larger interests of people of Punjab, the House unanimously directs the Punjab government, cabinet and entire government officers and officials to neither hand over any land of any agency for the construction of Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal nor allow anyone to work on this project and give any sort of cooperation for this purpose”.
Second Resolution: Push for loyalty
It is a historical truth that before Independence a riparian state used to get royalty for sharing water with the non-riparian state.
For example, during the British rule, river water of Punjab was given twice to another states. Water was given to Patiala, Nabha and Jind states in 1873 and it was clearly specified that Punjab being a riparian state had right over these waters.
Therefore, Patiala, Nabha, and Jind states had to pay royalty in lieu of water till 1945-46.
For the second time, the water was released to the Bikaner state through Gang Canal on the request of Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner and the Bikaner state paid royalty to Punjab.
“Therefore, considering the aforesaid facts, this House strongly directs Punjab government to immediately take up the matter with the Central government, Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi, regarding securing cost/royalty in lieu of river water…so as to undo the injustice meted out to the state for decades by Congress-led governments in Punjab and at the Centre”.
Mediator of the day: BJP’s Madan Mohan Mittal, parliamentary affairs minister, acted as a mediator when he requested speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal to let independent MLa Simarjeet Singh Bains speak. Mittal mediated when Bains brothers started creating ruckus in the House for not given time to speak.
Jibe of the day: Akali Dal MLA from Khem Karan Virsa Singh Valtoha while speaking against Bains brothers also took a jibe at speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal, saying Bains brothers and Atwal are from Ludhiana, and they (brothers) take guidance from him from time to time. “Hence, speaker can’t act beyond a smile against the brothers,” he said.
Interruption of the day: When speaker was about to pass the resolution moved by the House, directing the Punjab government to not give permission to construct SYL canal, Valtoha and Tota Singh made frantic interruptions. “How can you ignore us,” both said in unanimity, forcing the speaker to give them the time to speak.
Course correction of the day: As parliamentary affairs minister Madan Mohan Mittal started reading out the resolution in English, he was interrupted by the speaker to read in Punjabi. “Speaker saab mere kol Punjabi wala nahi hai” (I don’t have resolution typed in Punjabi) and speaker sent him the resolution written in Punjabi.
Smile of the day: Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal responded with a smile when independent MLA Simarjeet Singh Bains referred to Badals’ Balasar farmhouse in Haryana being fed by distributries of Bakhra main line. Badal’s smile, a rare phenomenon, caught the attention of the entire House.