Punjab CM warns against SYL, says state will burn

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Published on Aug 18, 2020 11:32 PM IST
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ByHT Correspondents

Chandigarh Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh warned on Tuesday that his state would burn and pose a national security threat if the Centre pushed to complete the Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal, which has been hanging fire for almost four decades because of an intractable dispute with Haryana over river water sharing.

Singh made the comment at a virtual meeting with Union water resources minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar.

“If you decide to go ahead with SYL, Punjab will burn and it will become a national problem, with Haryana and Rajasthan also suffering the impact,” he said, saying the issue could destabilize a state already plagued by Sikh extremism and Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. “You have to look at the issue from the national security perspective,” he told Shekhawat, according to a Punjab government statement.

Khattar said he was open to dialogue but maintained that the canal should be completed at the earliest. “We are open for dialogue and discussion on the subject but with a clear stipulation and condition that construction of SYL must be completed as per decree of the Supreme court at the earliest. Not doing so is gross injustice to the people of water deprived areas of Haryana,’’ the chief minister said.

Both states stuck to their stands at the meeting convened on the directions of the Supreme Court (SC), which asked the Centre on July 28 to mediate between the two states. The two CMs described the interaction – the first such meeting between them on the SYL project – as “cordial” and agreed to talk again.

“Detailed discussion was held in a positive and cordial atmosphere. Both chief ministers expressed their views in the first round of talks. Another meeting will be held in a week or so to take things forward,” Shekhawat told reporters after the meeting.

The decades-old dispute over the canal, which is to carry water from Punjab to Haryana, is rooted in a disagreement over sharing of Ravi-Beas water. Haryana is seeking its “rightful” share, and Punjab is refusing to complete the canal, saying low volume of water mean it has nothing to spare. The canal is finished on the Haryana side.

In its 2002 and 2004 judgments, the SC ordered the completion of the canal in Punjab. In July 2004, the Punjab assembly passed a law annulling all inter-state agreements related to the sharing of Ravi and Beas waters, including the December 1981 tripartite agreement signed by chief ministers of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan to set up the SYL canal. In November 2016, the top court struck down this law.

Currently, Haryana says it receives about 1.62 million acre feet (MAF) of its share of 3.5 MAF of Ravi-Beas waters. Punjab says it was unfairly deprived of Yamuna river water when the state was reorganized in 1966 to create Haryana.

At the meeting, Singh argued for a tribunal to adjudicate water availability and said availability of Ravi-Beas water decreased from 17.17 MAF in 1981 to 13.38 MAF in 2013. “Trans-basin transfer of water can only be allowed from a surplus basis to a deficit basis, and, as of today, Punjab is a deficit state and could not therefore be asked to transfer water to Haryana…why would I not agree to give water if we had it,” he asked.

Khattar said Punjab should build infrastructure capacity to harness river water. “There is clear evidence that surplus, un-channelized water from Ravi, Sutlej and Beas has been flowing to Pakistan for the last 10 years resulting in colossal national waste. In fact, Central Water Commission (CWC) quantified this flow from Ravi river at 0.58 MAF, advocating construction of a second Ravi Beas link at Dharamkot…such surplus water can be harnessed for drinking water starved areas of south Haryana and for ground water recharge instead of allowing it to flow to Pakistan,’’ the Haryana CM said.

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