End of SYL canal? Punjab govt to return project land to farmers

The Punjab government on Thursday announced that it will de-acquired the land that was acquired for the SYL canal project. Subsequently, the land will to be handed over to its rightful owners.
The land, over 5,000 acres, had been acquired from the farmers almost four decades ago.(HT file photo)
The land, over 5,000 acres, had been acquired from the farmers almost four decades ago.(HT file photo)
Updated on Mar 10, 2016 11:22 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | By, Chandigarh

Striking at the root of the contentious Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on Thursday announced de-notification of the acquisition of entire 5,376 acre in Punjab and return it to the owners from whom it was taken to construct the canal.

The ground-altering step of the Badal government comes a day before the Supreme Court hearing on the Presidential reference on the validity of the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, enacted by the Punjab assembly in 2004. This dormant dispute between Punjab and Haryana over river-water sharing bounced back into focus after the apex court resumed hearing two weeks back and the Centre contended that the 2004 Punjab termination Act was not valid, raising the political temperature in Punjab.

“The situation has taken a dangerous turn and tolerating this injustice would tantamount to signing on the death warrant of Punjab and Punjabis. Punjab does not have a single drop of water to spare for others…no decision would be accepted which amounts to injustice against the Punjab river waters,” Badal said in the Vidhan Sabha while announcing to de-notify the acquired SYL canal land, setting the stage for taking a political high ground and stealing the opposition’s thunder on the emotive issue in the poll-bound Punjab.

In a bid to give legal sanctity to the decision, the government will bring in a Bill to de-acquire the land in the current budget session. In case, due to technical glitches the Bill is not tabled in this session, a special Vidhan Sabha session will be convened to pass the Bill and set into motion the process of de-notifying the acquired land and restoring it to its rightful owners spread across the erstwhile Patiala and Rupnagar districts.

The government has already given Rs 35-crore compensation in lieu of acquiring the land from owners.

Politically, Badal’s move to de-acquire the SYL land is a hugely significant development and is a bid to scrap this abandoned project altogether. Now, the election-bound SAD-BJP government will up the ante on the political-legal fight on this decades-old intractable river water tangle. By a single stroke, Punjab’s move would turn the clock back on this canal of contention.

Thursday’s stunning move is the second major decision Punjab has taken after the 2004 Termination Act engineered by then Capt Amarinder Singh-led Congress government.

Earlier, Badal moved the resolution in the assembly—without mentioning the SYL canal land de-acquisition move—saying that after Partition, Punjab had always suffered due to high-handedness and injustice over this utmost important and serious issue of river waters.

Badal said, “According to the riparian principle, Punjab has every right over its river waters. In spite of this, from the very beginning, Punjab has been deprived of its right through various agreements and decisions. By violating the Riparian Law prevalent in the country as well as in the world to impose the decision of construction of the SYL canal in order to snatch the Ravi-Beas waters from Punjab would not be tolerated at any cost.”

Pandemonium prevailed in the house after Badal moved the motion with the Congress disrupting the proceedings. As the Congress didn’t let the house function, speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal had to adjourn the house for five times for a total of 150 minutes.

The Congress didn’t let the chief minister speak on the motion. Finally, the speaker suspended all present Congress legislators for the day after which Badal spoke on the motion for 26 minutes in the opposition’s absence.

Later, outside the house, deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal described as “historic” the decision to de-acquire the land.

Asked if this move will be legally tenable, CM Badal said, “We have taken the decision after consulting the advocate general. This is not a decision taken in haste.”

CM-speak

The Punjab Termination of Agreements Act-2004, which the Congress paints as its heroic contribution to Punjab is actually nothing but an unintentional admission of guilt by it as all agreements and decisions which the Act terminates were signed by the Congress governments only. They have undone their own sins.

Any attempt or decision to take away water from Punjab would amount to signing its death warrant. Punjab doesn’t have a single drop of water to share with anyone. I would much rather make the supreme sacrifice and shed every drop of my blood than agree to implement any decision which robs Punjab of its rights regarding the SYL canal against all norms of riparian principles.

Parkash Singh Badal, chief minister

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