Finding it tough to counter the flak over drug abuse and also apprehending an adverse verdict from the Supreme Court, Punajb’s SAD-BJP government is looking to reignite the issue of interstate river-water sharing right from the village level, ahead of assembly elections due early next year. Gram panchayats, in apparent orchestration from the top, are passing resolutions opposing construction of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal, via which the state has to share water with neighbouring Haryana.
A recorded voice message from chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, in which the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) patriarch appeals for “protection of Punjab’s waters”, is being sent to sarpanches on mobile phones.
The deadline to pass the resolutions is June 17; the urgency being attributed to the fact that the SC, following a presidential reference, last month reserved its judgment on the validity of the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act 2004, through which the then Congress government in the state had annulled all water-sharing pacts. The court’s final word is likely by the middle of next month, said a senior official of the state government who did not want to be named.
The stepwise plan — also close on the heels of the movie ‘Udta Punjab’ lending traction to the issue of drug addiction — is for the panchayats to submit these to the deputy commissioners, to be sent to the state governor, and then right up to the Prime Minister and President.
Top officers of the rural development and panchayats department met district and block development officers recently, and handed them a set draft of the resolution. This draft says water issues “be resolved as per the riparian principle”, and also blames governments at the Centre for the SYL-related crisis in the state, sources have told HT.
Asked about it, minister Sikander Singh Maluka claimed, “We (state government) have not asked any panchayat to come up with such a resolution,” but added, “We are guiding them in drafting it.” He further said that panchayats “are following each other”, and the government “only wants that the wording is uniform, so that it doesn’t deflect from the main issue”.
Asked about the exact purpose, Maluka said, “We can’t eject ourselves from this fight. The government has passed a resolution in the Vidhan Sabha opposing construction of the SYL canal; and panchayats, being the smallest units of democracy, should also get involved.”
Department secretary Dipinder Singh did not share the number of panchayats who have done it so far, but said the number was “large”. There are 13,004 panchayats in Punjab, and he insisted the move was not mandatory.
The SYL issue had last grabbed headlines three months ago, after the state assembly passed a bill on March 10 to return the 5,376 acres acquired for the canal. Immediately after, Akali leaders from areas along the canal route — as also Congress leaders looking to take credit — started a canal-refilling exercise. That stopped after the Supreme Court intervened.
That bill, however, is still to turn into a law as the file is with the governor, Kaptan Singh Solanki, who is in fact the governor of Haryana with additional charge of Punjab. Meanwhile, at a ‘sangat darshan’ (public contact) programme in Malout area of Muktsar district, the CM again raised the issue, exhorting people to “be ready for any sacrifice to protect the state’s waters.” Maluka also told HT, “The SYL canal doesn’t concern all districts; only 8-10 districts along its route would see a direct impact; but if water flows, it will a loss to the entire state, especially to farmers.”