The neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana are presently in a condition of heightened mutual animosity over the canal linking rivers, Sutlej and Yamuna. The states have always been bickering because of sharing the waters of rivers Ravi and Beas for decades and it seems that things have reached a new head, thanks to the latest issue to have cropped up between the two states in question.
When Haryana was created from Punjab in 1966, it was agreed that a certain percentage of the waters of the aforementioned rivers would be shared in a prescribed manner. However, in spite of repeated demands from Haryana, Punjab has always denied sharing of the waters.
History of water dispute
During 2004, the state government of Punjab, led by Congress’ Captain Amarinder Singh, created a law that annulled all the previous water-sharing agreements of Ravi and Beas with its neighbours. The Indian Government had at that time intervened and asked the Supreme Court to provide its opinion on the said law. In March 2016, the Punjab Government, headed by Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and BJP, created another law that enabled the previous owners of Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) to get back the land that had been taken over for creating the said canal. Incidentally, this canal was supposed to carry the share of water apportioned to Haryana.
Haryana decided to seek judicial intervention and the Supreme Court asked for status quo. On 10th November, 2004, the law was declared null and void by the apex judicial body that said it was against the Constitution. It is now expected that this decision will have a major impact on the upcoming Punjab elections of 2017. As things stand now, Parkash Singh Badal, the Chief Minister of Punjab, has stated in a surprise show of defiance that the Supreme Court judgment on the issue will not be adhered to and the state itself is already facing upheaval over the verdict.
How did the problems start?
The problems started after 1November, 1966 when Punjab was broken up into Punjab and Haryana and these were regarding the surplus waters of Beas and Ravi. Out of the entire 7.2 million acre feet (MAF), which was the share of Punjab before 1966, Haryana asked for 4.8 MAF on the basis of equitable distribution. However, the Government of Punjab did not agree to it. Haryana then asked the national government for help and it notified Punjab on 24 March, 1976 where it stated the duties and the rights of the states in this case. Haryana received rights to 3.5 MAF.
Importance and history of SYL Canal
The SYL Canal is meant to cover a distance of 212 km and expected to carry the share of water apportioned to Haryana to its southern part that is arid and dry. The 121 km of the canal is supposed to run through Punjab and the rest through Haryana. Haryana had already completed its part of construction during June 1980 and spent almost INR 250 crore for the purpose. It was supposed to give Punjab INR 192 crore over the years to get the latter’s part of construction completed. It also gave the first installment of INR 1 crore during November of 1976, but Punjab never started the work. Soon, separate petitions were filed by both the states at the Supreme Court during 1979.
When did Punjab start working on the same?
It was following a tripartite agreement that Punjab started to work on the canal. At that time, the abovementioned petitions were still in the Supreme Court. However, the-then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, met the chief ministers of Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan on 31 December, 1981. Soon, the said agreement was signed and it was decided, that compared to 15.85 MAF the water available in Beas and Ravi would be increased to 17.17 MAF. As per this agreement, Punjab was able to use the share of Rajasthan till it was in a position to share water with Haryana. This meant that it could use an extra 1.32 MAF. At that time, Punjab agreed that it would finish the canal construction in a brace of years and the petitions were taken back from Supreme Court. A ceremony was organized on 8th April, 1982 in the vicinity of Kapuri village, Patiala district, to mark the occasion and it was attended by Indira Gandhi as well.
What happened later – what is the present condition?
However, the intended canal work never started because of a ‘dharm yudh’ (religious war) waged by Sant Harchand Singh Longowal from 1982 to 1985. On 24 July, 1985, the Punjab Accord was signed in New Delhi by Longowal and Rajiv Gandhi, the-then Prime Minister. Hereby, Punjab had until August 1986 to complete the construction and in January 1987, a Supreme Court-appointed tribunal increased the share of both Punjab and Haryana. The state government of Punjab, led by SAD’s SS Barnala, managed to complete 90% of the work and spent Rs 700 crore. But work was stopped following militant interference and it has stayed in the same state ever since, in spite of repeated orders on the contrary from the Supreme Court.