Amarinder throws the ball in Centre's court on contentious Punjab issues
The 28th meeting of the Northern Zonal Council (NZC) held in Chandigarh on Friday saw Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh putting the ball in the Centre's court on the contentious issues of river water-sharing and the menace of drugs.
The meeting was held under the chairmanship of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh with Punjab playing the host.
The other participants included:
Punjab Governor and Administrator of Chandigarh VP Singh Badnore
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar
Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Anil Baijal
Minister of State for Environment (Independent Charge) Anil Madhav Dave
Jammu and Kashmir Deputy chief minister Nirmal Kumar Singh
Himachal Pradesh's Health and Family Welfare Minister Thakur Kaul Singh
Rajasthan's Minister for Water Resources Ram Pratap
Punjab Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh disclosed that Amarinder referring to Punjab's river water-sharing issue, that includes construction of Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) canal, expressed his being in favour of an out of court settlement with all the parties coming together along with the Centre.
He said the union water resources ministry has agreed to convene a meeting on the issue soon. The chief secretary claimed that even Khattar has agreed to this.
“The chief minister has expressed that a fresh evaluation of water availability in the Punjab's rivers is required keeping in view the climate change and the changes in the monsoon pattern,” he said.
It was after Rajnath's plea for a marathon discussion on the issue that Amarinder pushed for consensual resolution of the SYL dispute. He also called for coordination by the concerned states along with the Government of India to find a feasible solution for optimal utilisation of river waters based on internationally accepted riparian principles.
There has been a view coming from various quarters that PM Narendra Modi should show the determination to resolve the issue out of court by making the various affected states agree to a feasible formula just like the former PM Indira Gandhi had done in the 1970s and 80s.
Putting it on the table
The chief ministers of both Punjab and Haryana had recently presented their case before Rajnath after a move initiated by Modi.
Rajnath said that efforts should first be made to find a solution through marathon meetings, failing which the matter should be left to the courts to decide.
He suggested that the chief ministers and chief secretaries of both the states should sit and discuss the issue threadbare in order to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution.
Amarinder pointed out that with an estimated 10 lakh acres of southern Punjab likely to go dry following the construction of the SYL. This region, which had seen the emergence of Naxalism, could become the hotbed of terrorism, triggering a national problem.
He said that though Haryana has less land, it has been given more water at the time of Punjab’s reorganisation.
Pointing out that Punjab was suffering an ecological crisis because of the depletion of ground water, he urged the central government to take expert advice on how to make reliable estimates of future flows in these rivers.
The other side
Asserting Haryana's stand on the issue, Khattar said, “The state government is willing to work towards an amicable settlement of every issue but we must always honour agreements arrived at in the past. Since our faith in the Constitution of India is full and unflinching, we would never hesitate in taking legal recourse in our determination to safeguard our interests and to protect the rights of the residents of the state.”
He further said, “Haryana is a water-stressed state as against the demand of 36.0 MAF (million acre feet) water, the availability is only 14.7 MAF. We have to give, out of our own share in the Yamuna waters, extra water to Delhi in compliance with the apex court's orders, even as Punjab is not delivering Haryana's full share of the Ravi-Beas water.”
Khattar asked the Centre to expedite the construction of Renuka, Kishau and Lakhwar-Vyasi dams on the Yamuna. He also said that it is also a matter of national concern that even after the signing of the Indus Water Treaty in 1960, more than 3 MAF of water is being allowed to flow into Pakistan.
Khattar also opposed the Punjab government proposal of exclusive investment in the Bhakra Main Line Canal and of exclusive utilisation of the electricity generated from there by Punjab.
Amarinder then went on to seek the Centre’s help in supplementing the state’s efforts to check cross-border smuggling of drugs. He has demanded central government concessions, on the lines of the fiscal and industrial concessions being given to Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, in order to compensate the state for the financial and economic loss already suffered by it. He said this is necessary to provide a level playing field to Punjab.
Referring to the rampant drug menace in Punjab, Amarinder told Rajnath that since the border is manned by central security forces, the latter should order a strict vigil on the border to check cross-border smuggling of drugs.
At the same time, he called for inter-state coordination among the neighbouring states of Rajasthan, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir to make a focused effort for the destruction of illegal cultivation of poppy and cannabis.
Amarinder called for effective plugging of narcotic substances' pilferage from areas where they are being cultivated legally for pharmaceutical and related purposes.
He underlined that sharing of information and initiating criminal action against the smugglers involved in this nefarious trade should be promoted while poppy husk vends located in Rajasthan along the Punjab border be shifted elsewhere.
Secretary (Border Management) in the Union Home Ministry, Sanjeevani Kutty, disclosed that Kaul Singh also expressed a grave concern over the drug menace spilling over to Himachal.
He called for a joint strategy to tackle the menace of drugs and alcohol which has woven itself deep into the fabric of the society.
Space to function
At the NCZ meet, Amarinder also lamented about the growing trend of centralisation of authority and called for greater operational freedom to states, cutting across party lines, in choosing and financing their developmental properties.
He said that state governments are in a much better position to understand, address and solve the problems of their people. Moreover, they are directly answerable to the people for ensuring a better quality of life.
In this context, he cited the need for states to have more funds for their primary development needs and reiterated his demand for an increase, to at least 50%, in the percentage of devolution of central funds to the states.
He also called for adhering to the 60:40 formula among Punjab and Haryana agreed upon at the time of re-organisation of Punjab on recruitment in all departments and categories of employees for Chandigarh.
Another issue taken up at the meeting included ratification of the stalled Shahpur Kandi dam project by Jammu and Kashmir so that construction can begin and people of both Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir get additional water and power.
Amarinder also sought Himachal Pradesh's intervention in putting an immediate end to the discharge of effluents into Sutlej river from industries and towns through various rivulets.
Pointing out that the Sutlej water is used for drinking purposes in many parts of Punjab, he said his government has initiated an ambitious project for cleaning of river waters and would ensure that all the waste water being discharged into Punjab rivers is treated before discharged within the next three years.
The meeting also saw an important advisory coming from Rajnath on ensuring that proper treatment be given to the Kashmiri students and other residents from the state.
Without elaborating on the advisory, Sanjeevani Kutty said that the advisory comes in the wake of certain unfortunate incidents where Kashmiris were targeted.
There have been instances where Kashmiris have been reportedly called 'stone pelters' and 'terrorists' and beaten up.