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Punjab water sharing: political parties play martyr on SYL issue

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 18 November 2016, 12:40 IST

Punjab is witnessing a race among its politicians to project themselves as martyrs on the issue of river water sharing with the state's neighbours and the construction of Satluj-Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal.

After state Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh resigned from the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat and party MLAs submitted their resignations on Wednesday, it was time for Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) patriarch and Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal to make his move at a specially-convened Assembly session.

During the session, MLAs who are affiliated to Navjot Singh Sidhu's Awaaz-e-Punjab forum - Pargat Singh and the Bains brothers (Balwinder and Simarjit) - also reportedly submitted their resignations on the issue of protecting the interests of Punjab.

What happened in the Assembly

Badal's cabinet had already decided to denotify the land acquired for the SYL Canal on Tuesday. Then, at the session, the party moved a resolution to direct the Punjab government, cabinet and entire officials neither to hand over any land to any agency for the construction of the SYL Canal, nor allow anyone to work on this project and give any sort of cooperation for this purpose in the larger public interest.

The house also resolved to extract recovery cost or royalty for the water supplied till now to Punjab's neighbours Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi.

The first resolution passed by the house pointed out that Punjab needs 56 MAF (million acre feet) of water for agriculture, of which river waters account for only 27%, and that the Central Ground Water Commission has already declared 105 out of 138 blocks as 'over exploited'.

On the issue of remuneration, the government was working on bringing in a Bill, but this would have required assent from the Governor, which was unlikely for an emergency session. Hence, it was decided to use all provisions envisaged in the draft Bill into a resolution, and issue directions to the state government for its implementation.

Parliamentary affairs minister Madan Mohan Mittal reportedly proposed the resolution, saying there have been instances in the past where the state has demanded royalty and received it. He said Patiala, Nabha and Jind were paying royalty till 1945-46 for using waters of the Sutlej.

In his address, Bassi Pathana MLA Nirmal Singh reportedly said Rajasthan alone owed the state Rs 80,000 crore as royalty, while Simarjit Singh Bains pegged the amount at Rs 15.34 lakh crore.

Badal's attack on the Congress

Reiterating that Punjab does not have a single drop of river water to spare, and no water would be allowed to flow to Haryana, Badal launched a frontal attack on the Congress, saying the entire Congress leadership had been accusing him and the SAD of changing their stand on the SYL issue.

He said it was the SAD which had opposed this anti-Punjab decision tooth and nail, whereas the Congressmen had accepted the verdict of their high command and the then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, thereby marginalising the very interests of the state and its people.

"Any decision to rob the state of its legitimate rights on river waters neither was, nor is, nor would be acceptable to me, nor to the SAD-BJP alliance government," he said, adding that the construction of the SYL Canal would not be allowed under any circumstances.

Taking strong exception to the absence of Congress MLAs at this crucial juncture, Badal blamed them for their double speak. He said on one hand, they were shedding crocodile tears over the recent verdict of the Supreme Court, while on the other, they ran away deliberately because they had a guilty conscience for betraying Punjab and its people on territorial issues, including river waters, several times.

Coming to his oft repeated claims on the Centre had discriminated against Punjab for decades, Badal said water was not an issue that merely affected the peasantry, but every section of society. He said there would be no agriculture without water, and without agriculture, there would be no trade and industry.

Amarinder's questions

The Congress leadership has ridiculed the resolutions passed by the Badal government as 'irrational and illogical', with Amarinder flaying the government's refusal to acknowledge that the state has no surplus water to 'either buy or sell'.

Saying that Punjab simply cannot give water to its non-riparian neighbours 'at any cost', Amarinder said: "But for some inexplicable reason, the Akali government's resolution is completely silent on this key issue."

He has lashed out at the Badal government for making no mention of Punjab's acute water scarcity, and its consequent inability to share SYL water in its resolution, which is blatantly in violation of the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1955.

Amarinder pointed out that all pre-independence precedents, as cited in the resolution, had been overruled by the Act of 1955, which categorically laid down that all water sharing would be free of cost. "Since that was a Central legislation, you would need to take the Centre's permission before trying to negate it," he said.

Amarinder also said the Badal government also seemed deliberately to have kept its resolution on recovery costs ambiguous, making no mention of future water sharing, but the intent was clear - by seeking royalty for water shared with other states with effect from 1966, the Akalis had laid the foundation for making similar demands for water sharing in the future.

"In any case, how is the recovery of past water costs going to resolve the problem triggered by the Supreme Court verdict in the SYL case?" he asked Badal, accusing him of trying to mislead the people of Punjab and cheat them of what was rightfully theirs.

Amarinder urged the Central government to intervene in the matter, and asked it to present the real facts of the case before the Supreme Court, to enable it to reach a logical conclusion, based on ground realities. He said the reality was that Punjab simply did not have surplus water to share with Rajasthan, Haryana or Delhi.

Referring to the other Akali resolution passed in the special session, Amarinder dismissed it as farcical, given the fact that the government had on Tuesday denotified the SYL land acquisition. "What do they mean, then, by saying that the state government should not give the SYL land to the Centre or any Central agency, when there is no SYL land left now?" he demanded to know.

AAP's memorandum

Meanwhile, the new player in Punjab politics, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), also handed over a memorandum to Governor VP Singh Badnore on the issue asking him, to ensure that for the next three months, no decision would be taken on the issue, and the status quo would be maintained.

AAP said this was in line with the fact that there had been status quo for over a decade. It also pointed out that what the Supreme Court has given is not a judgment, nor is it binding, and in view of the exigencies of the situation, the state being on the brink of elections, it cannot be over emphasised that peace and law and order is of the utmost significance and must not be compromised with.

The memorandum read: "Any hasty decision at this juncture would not only muddle the emotive issue but push the region into a vortex of violence, which had gripped the state in the 1980s and 1990s. It is evident that certain political parties, especially the ruling party in power, the Akali Dal, are trying to misuse the issue for their vested interests. Violence at such a time will be used as a weapon to either postpone the elections, which are barely in three months, or affect them to a colossal extent. For 10 years and two full terms the Akali Government has sat with their hands tied and did not remotely bring up the issue with their alliance partner - the NDA, and today they seek to misuse the opinion of the Supreme Court to serve their nefarious motives."

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 18 November 2016, 12:40 IST