Sutlej Yamuna Link canal issue: Amarinder Singh, Cong MLAs resign after SC rules against Punjab govt

In a huge setback to the Punjab government, the Supreme Court on Thursday set aside the Punjab government's order quashing water sharing agreement with Haryana. The court ruled that the legislations passed by Punjab government on Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal dispute stand null and void as a bilateral agreement cannot be tampered with by one party alone. unconstitutional

All Congress Party MLA's have sent their resignation as a protest over the order. Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh have also quit as an MP from the Lok Sabha, according to Times Now. 

The court answered in negative all the questions raised before it through presidential reference under Article 143 of the Constitution, stating that the Punjab water Law is unconstituional. Following the court order, the Centre will take over the canal and continue the construction work on it, according to ANI. 

However, the political fall out of the Supreme Court order in poll-bound Punjab is already gathering heat. With all Punjab Congress MLAs resigning over the issue, the Punjab Congress has blamed the state government, stating that the Badal government did not make a strong case in court, which led to the Supreme Court order that is against the interests of Punjabis.

Sutlej Yamuna Link canal issue: Amarinder Singh, Cong MLAs resign after SC rules against Punjab govt

A file photo of the Yamuna. AFP

Punjab government, on the other hand, has maintained a cautious line, stating that a cabinet meeting will be held in which the government will review the court order and then convey its stand. The SAD-BJP alliance government in Punjab also rubbished Congress' allegations, and termed the resignation of the Opposition party's MLAs a "farce".

The BJP was quick to point out that the foundation laying ceremony of the dam was carried out by Indira Gandhi and Punjab's State Congress chief Amarinder Singh had went to recieve her. Amarinder has now resigned from the Lok Sabha as a sign of protest.

Haryana on the other hand has welcomed the Supreme Court order. "The decision came late, but it is finally in the favour of Haryana. I welcome it," Haryana Chief Minister ML Khattar told ANI.

The contentious Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal dispute, where north Indian states, including Punjab and Haryana, have contested the sharing of water, was pending for hearing in the apex court since 2004.

The Centre had said it was not taking sides and was maintaining a neutral stand in the matter in which the court has recorded the stand of other states — Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir.

A five-judge constitution bench headed by Justice AR Dave, who is leaving office on 18 November, had reserved the verdict on 12 May after the Centre maintained its earlier stand of 2004, that the states concerned should settle their disputes on the matter by themselves.

During the hearing of the case, while Punjab Assembly passed a law to return the land acquired on its side for the construction of SYL canal, the Haryana government approached the apex court which directed to maintain the status quo. The court has also appointed the Union Home Secretary and Punjab's Chief Secretary and Director General of Police (DGP) as the 'joint receiver' of land and other property meant for SYL canal.

Isolated by other stakeholders over the dispute, Punjab has earlier said the SC was not bound to answer the presidential reference made at the instance of the Centre which had no power to resolve the dispute. Article 143 of the Constitution of India gives the President the power to the refer to the Supreme Court, a question of law or fact which pertains to the public.

The Parkash Singh Badal-led Punjab government has submitted that a fresh tribunal be set up to resolve all disputes with other states, including Haryana, on all aspects, which will also cover the riparian rights and the dwindling flow of water.

It had said a fresh tribunal was sought in 2003, about 18 months before the 2004 law, to review the 1981 Rajiv-Longowal Accord on river water-sharing in view of depleting flow and other changed circumstances.

A history of the SYL dispute

The water-sharing agreement is among Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir.

According to the Wire, the history of this dispute goes back to Partition — after India and Pakistan were formed, they signed the Indus Waters Treaty in 1960, settling for the unrestricted use of three rivers — (the disputed rivers in question of undivided Punjab were Beas, Chenab, Indus, Jhelum, Ravi, and Sutlej), Beas, Ravi and Sutlej. Once signed, water from the three rivers was shared between Punjab, Delhi, and Jammu and Kashmir.

After Haryana's succession from Punjab in 1966, it became eligible for riparian rights, stressing that it cannot lose them because of redrawing of state borders, especially for political purposes, reports Praveen Swami for Frontline. Yamuna, the Wire adds, which once flowed through unidivided Punjab now charted a course only in Haryana and wasn't included in this arrangement. This became the bone of contention between the two states.

In 2004, the state passed the Punjab Termination of Agreements legislation, which meant it went back on its word to share water with Haryana through the SYL Canal, according to an editorial in The Hindu. The issue has been dragging on in the SC since March this year, where a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court ordered status quo on the land marked for the construction of the SYL Canal.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Nov 10, 2016 16:58:27 IST

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