With the Punjab assembly elections a few months away, the Sutlej Yamuna Link canal controversy has reared its head again. On November 10, the Supreme Court ruled that the law passed by the state assembly in 2004 scrapping water-sharing agreements with neighbouring Haryana and other states is unconstitutional.
The apex court also said the canal has to be completed and that Punjab cannot unilaterally move out of an agreement involving other states.
The political parties have jumped in to make hay, with the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP ruling government refusing to share the water despite the court ruling and all 42 Congress MLAs tending their resignation. State Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh also resigned as Member of Parliament over the issue.
The water-sharing agreement
Haryana was carved out of Punjab on November 1, 1966, following which differences arose between the two states over the sharing of waters from Ravi and Beas rivers. The Union government intervened in 1976 and allocated 3.5 million acre feet (MAF) of water to Haryana from undivided Punjab's share of 7.2 MAF.
In 1981, under the watchful eyes of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan entered into an agreement whereupon the waters from Beas and Ravi were recalculated to be 17.17 MAF. Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan were allocated 4.22 MAF, 3.5 MAF and 8.6 MAF respectively. Jammu and Kashmir got 0.65 MAF while Delhi 0.20 MAF.
Sutlej Yamuna Link canal
To facilitate the sharing of water, it was agreed that the 214-km Sutlej Yamuna Link canal would be built, of which 122km would be in Punjab. Haryana completed its portion of the canal—92km—in June 1980. Punjab started work only after the 1981 agreement and promised to complete the work in two years.
On April 8, 1982, Indira held the ground-breaking ceremony near Kapuri village in Patiala district. The Akali Dal, however, opposed the tripartite agreement and started an agitation called Kapuri Morcha to protest against the construction of the canal.
In July 1985, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi signed the Punjab Accord with Akali Dal president Harchand Singh Longowal, according to which they mutually agreed on a tribunal to look into the interests of both the states. Akali Dal withdrew their protest. The Eradi tribunal, headed by Supreme Court Justice V. Balakrishna Eradi, came into being and a new deadline—August 15, 1986—was set to finish the canal.
The controversy refuses to die down
The tribunal increased the share of both the states in 1987 but the order could not be implemented because of militancy issues in Punjab. The SAD government led by Surjit Singh Barnala completed about 90 per cent of the work at a cost of Rs 700 crore but had to abandon the project after militants killed engineers and labourers.
In 1990, Haryana approached the Union government to construct the canal and it accepted the demand. But the canal was never completed. The Supreme Court, on Haryana's pleas, directed the Punjab government in 2002 and 2004 to complete the work but in vain. Instead, in 2004, Amarinder Singh-led government passed the law scrapping the water-sharing agreement. And in March this year, the Punjab Assembly passed another bill allowing the return of the land acquired for the construction of the, to its owners.
It took 12 years for the Supreme Court to declare the 2004 law as “null and void”.