The Punjab government has refused to construct the remaining portion of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal, saying it does not have additional river waters to share with Haryana, the Union government informed the Supreme Court on Friday in a progress report.
The report, containing the crux of the two meetings between the chief ministers of the two states in October 2022 and January this year, said the Punjab government has been emphatic that there is no need to construct the SYL Canal because the state cannot share any water.
“During the meeting (on January 4), Punjab was of the view that the water availability in the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej system of rivers has reduced and there is no excess water for sharing with Haryana… As there is no excess water in Beas and Sutlej rivers to be shared with Haryana, the need for construction of SYL Canal does not arise,” said the report, submitted before a bench led by justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul.
The Bhagwant Mann government also raised a contention on law-and-order. “In 2016, Punjab had already de notified the land acquired for construction of SYL Canal and returned to farmers. Therefore, construction of SYL now may raise law and order problems,” it claimed.
The Centre’s progress report further disclosed that the Punjab government has sought to reopen the 1985 Punjab Memorandum of Settlement (Rajiv-Longowal Accord) on the sharing of river waters with other states.
The accord was signed on July 24, 1985 between then prime minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi and then president of Shiromani Akali Dal, Sant Harchand Singh Longowal. Its first clause states that the farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan will continue to get water not less than what they are using from the Ravi-Beas system as on July 1, 1985. The claim of Punjab and Haryana regarding the shares in their remaining waters, the second clause laid down, will be adjudicated by a tribunal to be presided over by a Supreme Court judge. The third clause of the Accord held that the construction of the SYL canal shall continue.
According to the Centre’s report, the Punjab government said that the first two clauses of the 1985 Accord “must be settled” before discussing the stipulation regarding the completion of the SYL Canal. Punjab also argued that the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act (PTAA), 2004 is still in force and as per this law, no additional water shall be given to Haryana.
In the meeting, the Haryana government declined to deliberate on any aspect other than the construction of the canal, as per the Accord and also in terms of the Supreme Court judgment in 2002. “The Hon’ble Supreme Court has already passed the decree for completion of SYL and this needs to be implemented by Punjab… On PTAA, Haryana stated that the law has been declared unconstitutional by the Hon’ble Supreme court in its Advisory Opinion,” said the report.
The Centre, thus, said: “Even after the best efforts by the Centre, there has been no agreement on the issue of construction of SYL among the two states in the meeting. However, both states agreed to discuss a workable solution on the issue in future. The Ministry of Jal Shakti is making all efforts to bring the states together for an amicable solution.”
The dispute between the two states has refused to die despite the Supreme Court, in a decree issued on January 15, 2002, ruling in favour of Haryana and directing Punjab to construct the SYL canal within a year. This decree came on a suit filed by Haryana in 1996.
In June 2004, the court reiterated its earlier decision while dismissing a suit filed by Punjab, seeking discharge of its obligation to construct the SYL Canal.
The same year, Punjab passed a law by which it cancelled the agreement with Haryana over SYL. This law, PTAA, 2004 came to the Supreme Court by way of a Presidential reference and was held not to be in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of India by the court in November 2016.
However, the then solicitor general made a statement in the court in January 2017 that an opinion in a Presidential Reference would not mean striking down the law since there was no party challenging the validity of PTAA, 2004. This statement encouraged the Punjab government to argue that its 2004 law is still very operational.
On January 4, Punjab and Haryana chief ministers met for a third time since 2020 but stuck to their stands during a meeting chaired by Union water resources minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat in New Delhi.
While Punjab CM Mann said his state does not have “even a single drop of water” to share, his Haryana counterpart Manohar Lal Khattar said the full construction of the canal and getting water through it was a matter of “right” for his state.
On January 19, the Haryana government told the top court that talks cannot resolve the dispute, and pressed for the execution of court orders that required Punjab to complete the remaining portion of the canal.
The Khattar government urged the court to consider hearing the matter on the judicial side instead of pushing for reconciliation, and pass orders to ascertain the Punjab government fulfills its obligation.
On that day, the bench had to adjourn the hearing to March 15 due to indisposition of the attorney general. The matter was listed on March 15 and 16 but could not come up for a hearing as the bench heard the cases up in the list.