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Punjab water sharing: parties harden stance as SC judgement approaches

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:47 IST

The sharing of Punjab's waters has been an emotive issue for the people of the state. And with the Assembly polls looming, political parties took advantage of that and went to town, proclaiming how they would never allow such a thing to happen.

Now, with the Supreme Court possibly set to pronounce judgement on a Presidential Reference on the sharing of Punjab waters, the political forces are scrambling to reposition themselves.

All three top contenders - the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have started hardening their respective stands on the sharing of river waters and construction of the Satluj-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal.

History of politics over SYL

Construction on the SYL canal was stopped way back in 1990, when the project chief engineer and superintending engineer were gunned down by the militants. But the issue continues to dominate political discourse in the state.

Both the traditional parties, the SAD and the Congress, have tried to cash in on the matter during their regimes.

If present state Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh had scored points in 2004 by enacting 'The Punjab Termination of Agreements Bill', rejecting all the earlier awards, it was Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal who came up with a masterstroke by passing 'The Punjab Satluj Yamuna Link Canal (Rehabilitation and Re-vesting of Proprietary Rights) Bill, 2016'.

Now the AAP has also thrown its hat in the ring, asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi to withdraw the Presidential Reference by the Central government to the Supreme Court.

These parties are consistently delving into the history of the issue of river water sharing to substantiate their claims and counter claims.

Badal has been trying his best to make SYL a key poll issue. He has been making statements on daily basis, accusing both the Congress and the AAP of compromising the interests of Punjab and promising that the SYL would never become a reality.

Amarinder's attack

Over the last few days, the Congress has also upped the ante on the matter, with Amarinder announcing that all Congress MLAs will resign from the state Assembly in the event of the Supreme Court deciding the SYL canal case against Punjab.

"While we respect the Supreme Court, we are also duty-bound towards Punjab, hence we will find legislative and constitutional ways and means to safeguard our water," he said, while claiming that not only will over 10 lakh acres of the Malwa region go dry, the people will not have even drinking water if the case is lost. He said that he too would quit his Lok Sabha seat.

He said the Congress party will go to the people and seek their support on the issue. "And after we form the government in 2017, we will initiate legal and constitutional measures to safeguard our waters, like we did in 2004 when we enacted Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004," he added.

"Either his (Badal's) intentions were not honest, or these were not clear, which made him vacillate and waste crucial time in getting the Governor's assent to the unanimous resolution of the Vidhan Sabha on SYL, thus providing enough time to Haryana to move the Supreme Court," he observed.

Amarinder has been saying that it was Badal and his then-Haryana counterpart Devi Lal who had started the process of constructing the SYL, and not the Congress.

Amarinder has also attacked AAP's national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for playing a dubious role on the issue and changing his statements. "Besides, his legal counsel also supported Haryana's case in the Supreme Court and everything is on record," he added.

Senior Congress leader Sunil Jakhar has also been attacking the Akalis on the issue. "The Supreme Court judgment on the SYL is imminent, but Badal has failed to carry out his 'raj dharma'. An unfavourable judgement will led the state into a deep crisis. Rather than taking preemptive measures, the chief minister is instigating people. The Akali Dal's plan is to ignite anarchy, not take up the matter with the Prime Minister," he said recently.

Jakhar pointed out that Badal should pursue the matter, and if there is no response, he should ask his daughter-in-law Harsimrat Kaur Badal to resign from the Union cabinet and snap ties with the BJP.

Akali camp hits back

The Akalis have hit back at the Congress, asking why Amarinder became party to scripting a black chapter in Punjab's history by supporting Indira Gandhi's decision to build the SYL canal.

SAD secretary general Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa said: "You are among the pack of Punjab Congress leaders who betrayed the interest of their state by welcoming the move to build the SYL canal through advertisements and even participated in its inaugural ceremony."

He said his party would never allow the anti-Punjab forces to become successful in their nefarious designs to rob Punjab of its river waters. "SAD is ready to make any sacrifice to safeguard the legitimate share of river waters of the state and will never allow construction of the SYL canal, as it is clear in our minds that Punjab did not have any excess water to spare," he said.

Even the hardline United Akali Dal has come forward on the issue saying that Badal should stop his theatrics on the issue of SYL and do something concrete. "We have decided to hold a token protest by dumping 500 baskets of mud in the SYL channel that was dug up earlier," said UAD leader Gurnam Singh Sidhu.

AAP's request to Modi

Amidst this continuing trading of charges, the AAP leadership has shot off a letter to PM Modi, calling for the withdrawal of the Presidential Reference by the Centre.

AAP leader HS Phoolka has said that if Indira Gandhi could make the CMs of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan sit on a table and get them to sign a dotted line for sharing the Punjab waters, Modi also can do the same.

The letter signed by the top leadership of the party says: "We demand that you withdraw the Presidential Reference from the Supreme Court and resolve the matter at the earliest. With a BJP-Akali government at the Centre and in Punjab, and also BJP governments in Haryana and Rajasthan, you are in the best position to resolve this issue amicably. We beseech you to call a meeting of all three Chief Ministers, reiterate Punjab's riparian right to its river waters and resolve the issue in its favour once and for all."

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 28 July 2016, 11:00 IST
 
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