INLD stir puts SYL canal back on Haryana political agenda, SC hearing tomorrow
The sharing of river waters and the construction of the Satluj-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal are back at the top of the agenda in Haryana politics.
The changed political equations in Punjab have certainly contributed to the return of the subject to the top of the agenda, as are the bid by the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) to pick up an emotive issue to enhance its relevance and an attempt by the Congress to put the BJP-led Central and state governments in the dock.
INLD blocks border crossings
On Monday, leaders and workers of the INLD, Haryana's main Opposition party, blocked five entry points along the border between Punjab and Haryana, preventing traffic from entering Haryana from the neighbouring state. The Haryana government had deployed heavy security for the protest, while Punjab had suspended bus services for the day to various destinations in Haryana and to Delhi.
But discounting the inconveniece to the masses, the INLD carried out protests.
Abhay Singh Chautala, the Leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly had termed this a 'symbolic protest'. According to him, the movement to get the order of the Supreme Court for the completion of the SYL canal peacefully had gone through various phases, including the submission of memorandums, staging of dharnas and demonstrations, and had now reached a critical stage, where INLD was constrained to stop all traffic coming from Punjab.
The INLD has accused the BJP governments in the state as well as the Centre of being unable to ensure that the orders of the Supreme Court are implemented. “Both the governments have alternately dragged their feet or tried to brush the issue under the carpet. But looking at the critical nature of agriculture in the state, the farmers of Haryana have no choice but to either migrate to other states or fight to get their share of water. The farmers have chosen to fight,” he said, while pointing out that 60% of the state has fallen in the 'dark zone', and 37,000 tubewell connections are in the pending list. In addition, farmers are not being given their share of river waters, thereby pushing them to the brink.
The INLD protested at Lalru-Ambala road, Shambhu border on National Highway No.1, Datasinghwala village of Narwana constituency in Jind district, Budhlada Road (Brahamanwala barrier) in Fatehabad district, and Bhatinda-Malout Road in Dabwali in Sirsa district. These protests were led by senior leaders of the party while Chautala was scheduled to visit all these spots by helicopter.
The Supreme Court had, in an order dated 10 November 2016, nullified Punjab's right to unilaterally terminate water-sharing agreements with its neighbouring states. Since then, political parties in Haryana have upped the ante for the completion of the canal, the work for which has stood abandoned for almost 25 years.
The Supreme Court decision had come with regards to a Presidential reference on the validity of the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004, that was enacted by the Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress government during its previous tenure from 2002 to 2007.
The INLD has timed its protest a day before a key hearing in the SYL matter in the Supreme Court on 11 July. The hearing pertains to the dignity of a decree passed by the Supreme Court in 2002.
This decree is the strongest case in favour of Haryana, as the Supreme Court had directed the Punjab government in January 2002 to make the canal functional within a year. It had also reportedly told the Centre that in case the Punjab government failed to fulfill its constitutional obligations, it should step in and get the construction of the canal completed through its own agencies 'as expeditiously as possible'.
“The dignity of the decree passed by this court must be maintained... Whether the matter is settled or not settled, we are not bothered about it... we are bothered about the implementation of our order,” a Bench headed by Justice PC Ghose had reportedly said on 27 April.
Punjab has contested that the decree is not executable, and has sought time to present its case. It has also pointed out that the denotification of land acquired for the SYL by the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP government after the apex court's 10 November 2016 verdict has further complicated the issue.
Haryana is now looking forward to a favourable Supreme Court verdict and the INLD wants to set the agenda on this emotive issue. The party, having been out of power for more than a decade, needs such issues to stay relevant in the state's politics.
A way to corner Cong & BJP
The changing political scenario in Punjab is another aspect to be taken into account. When the INLD started its first round of protests on the issue in February 2017, the SAD-BJP regime was still in office. The historically friendly relations between the SAD and INLD are well known.
But now, with the Congress in power in Punjab, the INLD has the option of being more aggressive on the issue, as it can corner both its rivals in Haryana – the Congress and the BJP.
Haryana Chief Minister ML Khattar has accused the INLD of playing politics on the issue, while pointing that since both the INLD and the Congress have no issues to rake up, these parties are just trying to salvage their eroded political existence in the name of farmers and the SYL.
In his address at a public function at Rakhi Garhi village in Hisar, he said that the hearing on the SYL case in the Supreme Court had been fixed on 11 July and the verdict is expected to favour Haryana. But the INLD is doing this 'drama' in the name of sealing the borders on 10 July, a day before the hearing. He asked the INLD if they would get water in the SYL by stopping Punjab vehicles from plying on the roads.
Congress puts onus on Centre
Former Haryana CM and Congress leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda said on Monday that the responsibility for constructing the SYL has been put on the Centre by the Supreme Court, which the Narendra Modi government must execute.
He pointed that the water levels of the Yamuna were going down considerably, and in the absence of the SYL, Haryana's farmers would be left nowhere. He said Haryana has got some finality on the issue after a long struggle, and it is now up to the Centre to finish the project.
Hooda also attacked the INLD for resorting to political drama and playing a 'fixed match' with the BJP. “They were given the mandate of the main Opposition party, but have become the main supporting party. When Parkash Singh Badal was the Chief Minister, they had threatened to dig the canal and had returned after scratching the road. Today, there were more policemen on the ground than people. The INLD is a sinking ship looking for high ground. It is a party whose soldiers are on the ground while the platoon commander (Abhay Chautala) is flying in the air,” he said.
Punjab's official stance
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has reiterated that any move to deprive the people of Punjab of much-needed water would lead to the revival of terrorism.
At a recent event in Delhi, he had once again underlined the need to check the availability of water in Punjab before taking any decision in the matter, and called for a dialogue to resolve the critical issue of national interest.