Haryana seeks SC directive to Punjab to end stalemate over SYL canal dispute
The Haryana government said there had been several meetings but no holistic or plausible solution was in sight through this process
The Haryana government on Thursday told the Supreme Court that talks cannot resolve the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal dispute, and pressed for the execution of court orders that required Punjab to complete the remaining portion of the canal.
As a bench led by justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul took up the matter, the Haryana government submitted that the only way forward seems to be issuance of appropriate directives from the top court to ascertain a raft of judicial orders starting 2002.
“After this court’s suggestion in September last year, there have been several meetings. The last meeting took place in January this year. Unfortunately, there have not been any progress. No holistic or plausible solution is in sight through this process,” senior counsel Shyam Divan, appearing for the Haryana government submitted before the bench, which also included justices AS Oka and BV Nagarathna.
Divan added that there have been at least nine meetings since 2017. “The matter has been repeatedly adjourned since 2017 to enable us talk. But we believe, the time has come for this court to consider issuing further orders for the execution of the decree,” he said.
The senior counsel urged the court to consider hearing the matter on the judicial side instead of pushing for reconciliation. The bench agreed to examine the Haryana government’s request on the next date of hearing in March. The matter had to be adjourned since attorney general (AG) R Venkataramani, who represents the Centre in the matter, was indisposed and had sent a request for the deferment of the hearing.
During the last hearing on September 6, the AG had said that despite many endeavours, Punjab refused to take part in the meeting called by the Centre in terms of the previous order of the court passed on July 28, 2020. The chief ministers of the two states last met on August 18, 2020 and since then, Punjab was non-committal on talks.
The letter written by the ministry further also informed the court on that day that no constructive development took place since the last hearing and while the manner of agreement is worked out between the states, the construction of the SYL canal and carrier canals may continue.
At this, the court implored the two sides to talk to resolve their differences and arrive at a negotiated water sharing agreement under the mediation of the Centre within four months.
On January 4, Punjab and Haryana chief ministers met for a third time since 2020 but stuck to their stands during a meeting chaired by Union water resources minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat in New Delhi.
While Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann said his state does not have “even a single drop of water” to share, his Haryana counterpart Manohar Lal Khattar said the full construction of the canal and getting water through it was a matter of “right” for his state.
The dispute between the two states has refused to die despite the Supreme Court in a decree issued on January 15, 2002 ruled in favour of Haryana and directed Punjab to construct the SYL canal within a year. This decree came on a suit filed by Haryana in 996. In June 2004, the court reiterated its earlier decision while dismissing a suit filed by Punjab seeking discharge of its obligation to construct the SYL Canal.
The same year, Punjab passed a law by which it cancelled the agreement with Haryana over SYL. This law, titled Punjab Termination of Agreement Act, 2004 came to the Supreme Court by way of a Presidential reference and was struck down by the court in November 2016.
Stating that Punjab cannot absolve itself from its liabilities arising out of the agreement, the top court also revived the decree passed by the Supreme Court in 2004 whereby the central government was directed to mobilise a central agency to take control of the canal work from Punjab immediately and complete it expeditiously.
Execution of the decree and completion of the canal work would mean allocation of 3.50 MAF (million acre-feet) water to Haryana whereas the existing Bhakra Main Canal has the capacity of supplying only 1.62 MAF of water to that state.