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Testing the waters: can Badal's belligerence over #SYLcanal save him in '17

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:59 IST

Seeking to build on the political capital he seems to have acquired by refusing to share Punjab's rivers with Haryana, Prakash Singh Badal Friday moved a resolution in the assembly declaring that the Satluj Yamuna Link canal would not be allowed to be constructed "at any cost".

The resolution was passed unanimously as the opposition wouldn't dare go against this populist line on the emotive issue.

The resolution came a day after the Supreme Court ordered Punjab to keep the status quo on the land acquired for SYL canal and is, thus, seen as an act of defiance by the Badal regime.

Also read - Treading water: how river-sharing feud has fired up Punjab's parties

The court had passed the order preventing the Punjab government from returning some 4,000 acres of SYL canal land to its original owners - the assembly passed the Punjab Satluj Yamuna Link Canal (Rehabilitation and Revesting of Proprietary Rights) Bill, 2016 on 14 March to effect this decision - on Haryana's plea.

In its plea, Haryana had pointed out that Punjab's farmers and politicians were using earth movers to fill up a vast length of the canal, particularly in Ropar and Patiala districts. This, the state argued, was an attempt to render inexecutable two apex court judgments calling for the completion of the canal.

I state in unequivocal terms that we won't allow SYL canal to be built at any cost: Parkash Badal

This latest slugfest over the SYL canal began early this month when the Supreme Court resumed hearing on a Presidential Reference on the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004. The Act, enacted by the Congress regime of Amarinder Singh, seeks to cancel the state's water-sharing pacts with the neighbouring states, thus jeopardising the canal.

At the hearing, the Narendra Modi government said it stood by previous SC orders that work on the canal should continue. Not surprisingly, politicians in Punjab were enraged by this "pro-Haryana stand" of the Centre.

Also read - Marathwada water crisis news: how water wars can consume India

Going on the offensive

Moving the resolution in the assembly Friday, Badal declared he "would rather make the supreme sacrifice than allow the SYL canal to be built as it deprives the people of Punjab of their legitimate rights to their river waters, in brazen defiance of the nationally and internationally accepted riparian principle."

Committing his regime to "the strongest measures needed to protect the interests of the people of Punjab", the chief minister asked the people to prepare for "tough battles ahead for this purpose".

Badal claimed there was "a wide consensus" that Punjab didn't have "a drop of water to spare for any other state". In view of this, there is no justification for the SYL canal, he added. "I wish to state in the most unequivocal terms that we will not allow this canal to be constructed at any cost."

Punjab's resolution against the SYL canal is a gross violation of Supreme Court's orders: @mlkhattar

Badal and his party, the Shiromani Akali Dal, aren't alone in opposing the canal. The Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party have taken the same stand, and as vocally. They don't have a choice, really.

By seizing on such an emotive issue, Badal has energised the SAD, which is grappling with heavy anti-incumbency less than a year before assembly polls, forcing the Congress and the AAP to play catch-up. And he seems determined to milk it to the last drop. He sent Haryana a cheque for Rs 191.75 crore, the money the state had paid in the past for the canal.

Paying back in kind

Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar was outraged. Lashing out at his Punjab counterpart for showing a "complete disregard for all canons of financial propriety", he promptly returned the cheque.

Khattar has now approached the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh for intervention in the matter.

Describing the resolution passed by the Punjab assembly Friday as "a gross violation of the orders of the Supreme Court", Khattar said he hoped the court would take "serious note of it". He added that his government will "present our viewpoint" in the apex court on the resolution.

Khattar's industry minister Abhimanyu Sindhu said his government "will definitely build the SYL canal as soon as the Supreme Court delivers the verdict favouring its construction".

Attacking both Badal and Amarinder Singh for "breaking the inter-state agreement", Sindhu said inter-linking of rivers would benefit not just the states but the nation at large.

The dispute could become a headache for the Modi government as the BJP rules both Punjab and Haryana - the former in alliance with the SAD - and could be forced to take contradictory stands on the issue in the two states.

More in Catch - There's a Cong-SAD-AAP war in Punjab over sharing water with Haryana

Playing with fire: Ken-Betwa & the flawed logic of river-linking

First published: 19 March 2016, 8:02 IST