Satluj-Yamuna back on the boil. INLD ready to dig canal itself
The controversial issue of Punjab's river water sharing and the construction of the Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) canal is back on the boil.
This time, the ante is being upped in Haryana by the main Opposition party, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), which plans to start digging the canal from Haryana and end at the Punjab border.
The INLD's move means more trouble for Manohar Lal Khattar's Bharatiya Janata Party government, which is already on the back foot trying to wriggle out of the precarious position where it has landed following the revival of the Jat agitation. The government of Punjab has also continued posturing, thus raking up the feud between the states once again.
INLD leader Abhay Chautala has already announced a programme for his party workers to march towards Punjab on 23 February to dig the SYL canal. According to the plan, INLD workers would assemble in the grain market at Ambala city and then move towards Punjab to dig the canal.
The party claims to have communicated its programme to the district administration, asking it to make adequate arrangements to regulate traffic movement on the day. The party leadership has stated that a denial of permission would put a question mark on the Haryana government's stand on the SYL canal.
The INLD has been attacking the Khattar government over its soft approach on the issue. Chautala and other leaders have been saying that it comes as a shock that the Haryana government did not make adequate efforts for the construction of the canal, despite the recent Supreme Court verdict in favour of the state.
He has been referring to the verdict where the Supreme Court ruled that Punjab had no right to unilaterally terminate water-sharing agreements with its neighbouring states. The matter in question was a presidential reference to the Punjab Termination of Waters Agreement Act, 2004, that was brought about by the Congress government under Captain Amarinder Singh.
The INLD has already thrown its weight behind the agitating Jats, saying that the BJP government is intentionally letting the issue linger on, which could deteriorate the situation in the state. Chautala has reportedly said that Jat leaders are only pressing for their demands agreed upon by the government on 22 February last year.
Haryana minister's allegation
To add fuel to the fire, Haryana health minister. Anil Vij has said that the digging of the SYL canal by “some Opposition parties” is only a gimmick, and their aim is to get photographed for publicity. He said on Monday that the Akalis and the INLD were the two sides of the same coin, and were playing a fixed match.
“We want the INLD to keep digging till Haryana gets water,” he said, while adding that if the INLD succeeds in bringing water through the SYL canal, he would himself go and garland them.
Vij added that it was only because of these Opposition parties that Haryana was still deprived of water, and claimed that it was due to the efforts of the present state government that the Supreme Court gave a decision in favour of the state, and that the Opposition is trying to gain political mileage out of it.
Punjab parties' strong stance
The INLD's move has been countered by the political forces in Punjab, which had hardened their stand on the issue during the run up to the recent Assembly polls.
The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has urged the political parties from Haryana not to indulge in activities that provoke the people of Punjab on the SYL issue, and asserted that the SAD will never let the project be completed as it would deprive the farmers of Punjab from their own waters.
SAD secretary Daljit Singh Cheema said the issue of the SYL is 'dead', once and for all, as the Punjab Assembly as well as the SAD-BJP government in the state have passed resolutions for the restoration of the land acquired for the project. He said this land has been restored to the original owners and is now in possession of the farmers of the state. He said this issue is one of life-and-death, not only for the farmers of Punjab, but for all Punjabis, as the state is already witnessing depletion of its water table.
Meanwhile, Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh has demanded deployment of armed forces to prevent any untoward incident on 23 February, when Chautala's party plans to force its way into Punjab to dig the controversial canal.
Pointing out that he himself had repeatedly warned that the SYL issue had the potential to trigger a revival of terrorism in Punjab, Amarinder said intelligence reports endorsing his apprehensions necessitated a strong crackdown on the INLD and its leaders before the situation got out of hand.
He has now demanded the preventive detention of Chautala and the cancellation of party supremo Om Prakash Chautala's parole, in order to control the situation which has escalated to dangerous proportions. Amarinder said that Abhay Chautala's adamant stand on the issue and his defiant threat to go ahead with the SYL incursion even if the army was called in was grounds enough for his preventive detention.
Amarinder also said that Abhay's defiant and provocative statements on the issue could have a long-term, explosive impact on Punjab’s peace. Being a sensitive border state, Punjab could not be left to its own devices to handle the current volatile situation, particularly in the light of the fact that the state is in a post-poll limbo, still awaiting the outcome of the Assembly elections, with no government worth the name at the helm to protect its interests.
He further stated with the ruling Badals (chief minister Parkash Singh and his son and deputy Sukhbir) having abdicated their responsibility in the face of their imminent defeat, the Central government’s intervention had become imperative to maintain law and order in Punjab.
Amarinder claimed that Punjab is sitting on a virtual landmine with intelligence reports suggesting that many of the sleeping terror cells are getting ready to raise their heads again. He said these militant organisations would exploit the fragile situation on the ground to further their anti-India agenda, if not checked immediately.
He also attacked the Khattar government, saying it was evident that the Haryana government was not serious about nipping the threat in the bud.