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Water wars: SC's SYL canal verdict throws Punjab politics out of gear

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 11 February 2017, 5:45 IST

Poll-bound Punjab is all set to witness a lot of action on the emotive issue of sharing its waters now that the Supreme Court has ruled that Punjab has no right to unilaterally terminate water-sharing agreements with its neighbouring states.

This verdict on a residential reference to the Punjab Termination of Waters Agreement Act 2004 that was brought about by the Congress government under Captain Amarinder Singh has set the ball rolling with the key political players - the Congress, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) - hardening their stance on this issue.

A dramatic turn of events

Minutes after the politically sensitive verdict, Amarinder resigned as Amritsar's Lok Sabha MP. Congress MLAs have decided to quit their assembly seats on the morning of 11 November and will hand over their resignations to the Speaker. Amarinder started receiving their resignations minutes after he quit his Lok Sabha seat.

Also read - ML Khattar welcomes SC verdict on SYL canal, says it is good for Haryana govt

The SAD leadership has called for a special cabinet meeting and AAP leadership too came out attacking both the SAD and the Congress for failing to protect Punjab's interests.

The question of control

Reports from Delhi say that the apex court ruling now translates into the Centre taking over the Satluj-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal project.

A five-judge constitution bench headed by Justice Anil R Dave reportedly ruled that Punjab's unilateral termination of previous agreements on river water sharing through the 2004 act is invalid. The presidential reference on the act was to examine the legality of the act.

It was in March this year that the issue had started assuming political overtones after the Punjab government passed the Punjab Satluj-Yamuna Link Canal Land (Transfer of Property Rights) Bill, 2016. Through this, the state government could hand over land acquired for building SYL canal back to its owners free of cost and the Supreme Court ordered the state to maintain a status quo on the said land. The court had earlier re-started its hearings on the presidential reference.

Water wars

Since then, political parties in the poll-bound state have been positioning and re-positioning themselves on the issue as they expected the verdict on the presidential reference.

In his resignation, Amarinder said he had decided to quit as Lok Sabha MP from Amritsar constituency with immediate effect "as a mark of protest against the deprivation of the people of my state of the much-needed Sutlej river water."

Calling the judgement a "major blow to the people of Punjab", he said he has always fought for Punjab's legitimate right on this issue and continues to stand by them at this critical juncture in the state's journey.

The Akalis let down the people of Punjab on this critical issue: Capt Amarinder

utting the blame on Akalis for bringing the people of Punjab to this pitiable situation, where they faced imminent devastation due to acute water scarcity, Amarinder said chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his team had failed to defend Punjab's stand in the court.

"The Akalis let down the people of Punjab on this critical issue, selling off their interests to Haryana," he said while accusing the Badal government of promoting its vested political interests at the cost of the interests of the state.

Also read - Amarinder Singh resigning from Lok Sabha is nothing but drama: Parkash Singh Badal

"Badal has done to Punjab what even its worst enemy could not have done. He has plunged Punjab into a state of total despair," he said, while pointing out that the ruling government had failed to get Punjab's interests protected in accordance with the international Riparian principles.

Amarinder said, "We will go to the people and seek a two-third mandate so that we can bring about another act to protect our waters. We want to do things in a constitutional way as there is no way that a Supreme Court verdict can be rejected."

Amarinder said the Badals never had the interests of the people of Punjab at heart. The theatrics they are now indulging in, by demanding royalty for water-sharing and asserting that they would not allow a single drop of water to leave Punjab, are not going to save Punjab's citizens, Amarinder said.

Badal has 'plunged Punjab into a state of total despair' because of his vested interest: Amarinder

He said, "We would prefer an early poll, maybe in December. The earlier the polls are announced the better. We expect Badal to create law and order problem," he underlined while demanding imposition of President's rule in Punjab.

He pointed that it is the ruling NDA at the Centre of which Akalis are an ally that took an anti-Punjab stand during the hearing on the presidential reference pertaining to the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004, laying bare the hypocrisy of the Badals in this whole affair.

He also asked Delhi chief minister and AAP's national convener Arvind Kejriwal to come clean on the issue. Amarinder has been saying that since Kejriwal is from Haryana, he will never support Punjab on the issue of SYL. Kejriwal has been under attack from both Akalis and the Congress for his dilly dallying approach on the issue and an affidavit filed by his government supporting Haryana's view on the issue in the apex court.

AAP makes its stand

The AAP leadership has been attacking both SAD and Congress on the issue while saying that Punjab has no water to give to any other state. The only relaxation its state convener Gurpreet Singh Singh Waraich has made is on drinking water.

He said, "From Friday, we are starting a dharna at Kapoori village where former prime minister Indira Gandhi struck the first blow on the ground of the silver shovel gifted to her by Amarinder to commence SYL canal construction. It was actually a stab on the back of Punjabis."

The party has demanded that Amarinder resign from the Congress and the Akalis must call off their alliance with BJP that wants to convert Punjab into a desert.

AAP has demanded that the Akalis call off their alliance with BJP

The AAP leadership has been accusing Amarinder of inviting then Indira Gandhi to commence SYL canal construction and now shedding crocodile tears. It has also been blaming Badal of acquiring land for SYL canal to please his friend and former Haryana chief minister Devi Lal.

Senior AAP leader HS Phoolka said that Badal has betrayed all Punjabis for the sake of his family and did not even think of getting the NDA government under Narendra Modi to withdraw the presidential reference. "Why did not Amarinder resign when his own party led UPA government took the matter to the Supreme Court through the President of India. He has no right to even contest Punjab polls," Phoolka said.

"We will not allow a single drop of water to go from Punjab. If it has to go, it will go over our dead bodies," he added.

Akali mayhem

The ruling SAD-BJP combine has been on the forefront of trying to make SYL canal a core electoral issue. The Akalis believe that this emotive issue has the capacity to over shadow all the other issues on which they are battling heavy anti incumbency like farm distress, farmer suicide and the drug menace.

It was during the Budget Session in March that Badal went ahead to return the land acquired for SYL through a bill. There was a mayhem on this land an over night Akali supporters and the administration reportedly filled the dug up portion and uprooted thousands of trees.

"Come what may, we would not allow even a single drop of precious river water of Punjab to go outside the state as the state government is committed to protecting the interests of Punjab because of water being the lifeline of the state," Sukhbir said at Fatehgarh Sahib on 10 November.

Haryana CM ML Khattar called the verdict a gift to the people of Haryana in its golden jubilee year

Hinting that the SAD MLAS would not quit on the issue, he has come out saying, "Why should we run away? This entire resignation drama has been created by the Congress party. Ask them that after one month, they would not remain MLAs anyways so why do this drama now?"

He said that the SYL issue has been a sole creation of Indira Gandhi and that if Amarinder and the Congress MLAs are so sincere, they should first resign from the Congress which is responsible for this issue in the first place.

An ecstatic Haryana

Meanwhile, all the major parties in Haryana welcomed the Supreme Court verdict. Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said that the Supreme Court has given its decision after a gap of 12 years as a result of the persistent efforts made by the present state government. He said that this decision of the Supreme Court has brought smile on the face of every Haryanavi because now the state would get its legitimate share of surplus waters that is 3.5 Million Acre Feet (MAF).

He called the verdict a gift to the people of Haryana in its golden jubilee year.

State Congress president Ashok Tanwar said that Haryana has struggled a lot for SYL canal and Khattar should now ask the Centre for early completion of the canal.

Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leader Abhay Singh Chautala who is also the leader of opposition in the Haryana assembly has asked for convening a special assembly session on SYL issue so that the stand of various parties becomes clear.

Edited by Aleesha Matharu

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First published: 10 November 2016, 9:44 IST