The Punjab government seems determined not to allow water from the state’s rivers to flow to the neighbouring state of Haryana, and to this effect, it has decided that it will not build the Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL). Even a Supreme Court order to maintain a status quo on the canal failed to dissuade the state MLAs from any further movement on the matter. The past three weeks have seen dramatic developments regarding the SYL canal, which Haryana calls its lifeline. The Supreme Court is hearing the Presidential Reference on the validity of the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004, vide which the state had terminated all agreements with other states, particularly Haryana regarding the sharing of water from rivers in its territory.
First, the Centre took a stand against Punjab in the court questioning the logic behind the Act. Then last week, the court rejected Punjab’s plea asking a judge to recuse himself from the case as he belonged to Haryana. Sensing a political opportunity, the Congress came all guns blazing against the Punjab government, hogging headlines with its protests and statements. But then the Parkash Singh Badal-government took a massive decision to de-notify the acquisition of the land done for the SYL canal and announcing that the land would be returned to the original farmers. He claimed that Punjab has no water to spare for any other state, and hence the canal would not be built. While some political pundits are describing Badal’s move as a masterstroke, some others have called it a desperate bid to shift the focus ahead of state polls next year. But the Badals have surely succeeded in hijacking the SYL agenda, which had suddenly become almost the lone talking point in Punjab.
The owners of the land and their supporters wasted no time, and aided by political leaders, rushed to fill the dug-up land. Haryana was caught unawares and started the anti-Punjab tongue-lashing. Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) MLAs led by Leader of Opposition Abhay Chautala went a step further by shouting slogans against the Punjab government; they tried to storm the Punjab Assembly when it was still in session. Both Punjab and Haryana Assemblies have always been housed in the same building.
The Manohar Lal Khattar government scampered to the Supreme Court, which promptly ordered a status quo directing the Home Secretary and the police chief to ensure custody of the under-construction canal as this was a case property. Khattar announced his satisfaction with the development, but the Punjab MLAs had other ideas. The very next morning, the defiant state Assembly passed a fresh resolution that they won’t allow the SYL canal, come what may. “Any decision from any quarter depriving Punjab of its legitimate right over the river waters will not be acceptable,” said Parkash Singh Badal.
The Haryana Congress has adopted aggressive postures and has sought President’s Rule in the states of Punjab and Haryana. Khattar and his team now pin all their hopes on the Central government (which hasn’t directly intervened in the matter as yet) and the Supreme Court which has fixed 31 March as the next date of hearing.