With a bill moved in the Lok sabha for an amendment in the Inter-state (River) Water Disputes Act, 1956 (IRWDA), there’s a new hope for Punjab as it sees a chance in the legislation to protect its waters.
The amendment bill moved by Union water resources minister Uma Bharti on Tuesday for a permanent tribunal to negotiate and settle inter-state river water issues would require approval from both the Houses before it’s implemented.
Punjab is hopeful that its long-pending application for re-assessment of Ravi-Beas waters sent to the Centre will be referred to the permanent tribunal.
Bharti, while presenting the bill in the Lok Sabha, called it a “revolutionary step” and announced that it proposes to introduce a mechanism to amicably resolve the disputes through negotiations.
“Our application to re-assess Ravi-Beas waters by an independent tribunal has been pending with the (Union water resources) ministry since 2003.Our plea was that the quantum of water in Ravi-Beas rivers have fallen drastically, so it should be re-assessed,” said SK Goel, a retired chief engineer of the Punjab irrigation department, who now gives consultation to the state government on river water issues.
After a long wait of 12 years, the state government in 2015 moved the Supreme Court (SC) seeking direction to the Centre for setting up a tribunal. “The court so far has not taken up the issue, but we are hopeful that after the amendment in the IRWDA, the Centre would refer our plea to it,” Goel said.
“Let us see how things take shape after the new amendment. Our government would take a decision to move its case only after the scope of amended IRWDA is known,” said secretary, irrigation, KS Pannu.
THE SYL CASE
In the ongoing case relating to the Sutlej-Yamuna link (SYL) Canal, the Supreme Court (SC) has asked Punjab to construct the canal, but the state government has pleaded that it has no water to share.
In its previous decision in March 2002, the SC had decreed for construction of canal, which the Punjab government had opposed.
As a counter to the earlier SC directive for building the canal, the Amarinder Singh-led state government had passed the Termination of (Water) Agreements Act in 2004, abrogating all the state’s previous pacts on water sharing with the neighbouring states, and sent it to the President for his assent.
The President had sent the matter to the SC for its advice, to which the apex court said the Act was not in accordance with the constitutional provisions, asking Punjab to complete the canal.
Work on the SYL Canal began in 1982, when it was decided to take surplus Ravi-Beas water to other states through a new (SYL) canal. The work was stopped after terrorists killed a chief engineer and an executive engineer working on the project in 1991. But by that time, 90% work on the SYL was complete.
In 1996, Haryana moved SC seeking construction of the canal and in 2002, the court issued orders for completion of the canal.
In the upcoming hearing on SYL issue in the Supreme Court on March 28, the Punjab government plans to contend that the SC order on construction of the SYL Canal was not binding on the state, as it came as an advisory to the President.
As per Article 262 of the Constitution, matters pertaining to inter-state river water distribution are not under the purview of the SC. It is dealt by a tribunal under IRWDA, which had constituted different tribunals from time to time.