By K S Chawla
The war over river waters between Punjab and Haryana has taken an ugly turn. The Punjab Vidhan Sabha passed a bill on March 14 ‘Punjab Satluj Yamuna Canal Land (Transfer of Property Rights) Bill which makes a provision for returning the land to the farmers whose land was acquired thirty years ago for the construction of SYL canal. It also decided that the state government would not recover the compensation paid to the farmers for the same and the land would be returned free of cost. First Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal had stated that Punjab did not have a drop of water to spare for any state and that Punjab was facing a shortage of water. Badal had also stated that the Government would return the land to owners and would get back the compensation paid to them which was worth about Rs. 300 crores. The resolution to denotify the SYL canal land and transfer the land to the owners was passed unanimously by the Vidhan Sabha. Congress and all other parties supported the bill.
This was a political achievement by Chief Minister as no political party could afford to oppose the bill in view of the 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections.
As a matter of fact, the Congress President Amarinder Singh had already announced to launch agitation to save Punjab waters and had planned to launch padayatra for the same.
Parkash Singh Badal who cannot be beaten by political rivals in such political moves snatched the initiative from the Congress and made an announcement in the Vidhan Sabha as it met for the budget session.
Since the 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections are approaching and no political party can afford to be left behind in taking up the issues pertaining to the welfare of Punjabis and farmers in particular. The issue of construction of SYL canal had been hanging fire for the past almost forty years. Immediately after the reorganization of Punjab into Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, the water distribution matter cropped up. The Punjab’s plea was that injustice to Punjab had already been done while demarcating the boundaries of newly created Punjabi speaking state as many Punjabi-speaking areas were left out of it. The Haryana state demanded a share in the waters of rivers Ravi, Satluj and Beas whereas the Punjab opposed this demand on the plea that under the riparian laws, Haryana had no right on rivers of Punjab as it was not a riparian state. Moreover, Punjab was not getting any share of the waters of river Yamuna and Jhajjar which flow through Haryana. However, the battle for the distribution of river waters continued unabated.
The first meeting in connection with the distribution of river waters was held in 1955 and the total calculated flow of water of Ravi and Beas was divided among Rajasthan (8MAF), undivided Punjab (7.20MAF) and Jammu and Kashmir (0.65MAF). After the creation of Haryana, Central Government issued a notification allocating 3.5 MAF out of the undivided Punjab’s 7.2 MAF. To enable Haryana to use its share of water a linking canal was proposed to link with Yamuna river which was known as Satluj Yamuna Link canal. After the lighting of emergency in the country, there was a non-Congress government at the centre known as Janta Government headed by Morarji Desai. In Punjab, the Shiromani Akal Dal and the Janata Party formed the government under the Chief Ministership of Parkash Singh Badal. In Haryana, there was a Janata Government headed by Ch. Devi Lal. Since Badal and Devi Lal were good friends, Badal took the initiative of asking Haryana to deposit Rs. 3 crore for the digging of Satluj Yamuna Link canal. The first cut to dig the canal was made by Parkash Singh Badal. But the Badal and Devi Lal Governments were dismissed by Indira Gandhi when she won the Lok Sabha elections in 1980.
In June 1980 when the election to Punjab and Haryana Vidhan Sabha were held, Congress returned to power… in both the states. Indira Gandhi renegotiated an agreement between Punjab and Haryana Governments on the sharing of rivers waters of Ravi and Beas. Darbara Singh who was Chief Minister of Punjab was not willing to sign the agreement but Indira Gandhi got annoyed with him and snubbed him saying ‘you are not fit to be Chief Minister’. Under pressure from Indira Gandhi, Darbara Singh put his signatures on the new agreement. Giani Zail Singh was then Home Minister in the Indira cabinet and he was supporting the Haryana cause. Bhajan Lal had defeated the Congress and was the Chief Minister of Haryana. Bhajan Lal was a very shrewd politician and he managed to win over Indira Gandhi. On April 1982, Indira Gandhi made a cut for the construction of the SYL canal at Kapoori in Patiala district and the Akali Dal under the leadership of Sant Harchand Singh Longowal launched Kapoori Morcha against the constitution of the SYL canal. The total length of the SYL was 214 kms of which 122 km fell in Punjab. Under the redistribution of the waters of Ravi and Beas – 17.17 MAF, Punjab was allocated 4.22 MAF, Haryana 3.5 MAF and 8.6 MAF went to Rajasthan, Rajasthan was the biggest beneficiary of the new agreement.
The Kapoori Morcha was converted into Dharam Yudh Morcha by the Akali Dal under the command of Sant Harchand Singh Longowal… in August 1982.
Lala Jagat Narain, Editor of Hind Samachar Group was murdered near Ludhiana on September 9, 1981. This also ushered in militancy in Punjab which was sponsored by the ISI of Pakistan. Punjab witnessed a period of great turmoil and operation Blue Star was also undertaken in June 1984 and Akal Takhat was demolished. This enraged the Sikhs and Indira Gandhi was assassinated on October 31, 1984. The Punjab continued to witness bloodshed and on July 24, 1985 Rajiv Gandhi signed an agreement with Sant Harchand Singh Longowal which was known as Rajiv-Longowal accord. This was ratified by the Lok Sabha. Under the accord, the promise was made to transfer Chandigarh to Punjab on January 26, 1986. Construction of Satluj Yamuna Link canal was also to be constructed under this agreement. The construction of SYL was taken up and the militants killed one chief engineer, one superintending engineer and 35 construction workers as a result of which the construction was stopped. So the construction of the SYL had been pending for the past three decades.
In 2004, Amarinder Singh as Chief Minister of Punjab through an act of the Vidhan Sabha terminated all the river waters agreements. This shook the Congress High Command and Amarinder was reprimanded as well. But he stuck to his guns. The Central Government referred this matter to the President who further sent it to the Supreme Court. The matter was hanging fire for eleven years in the Supreme Court. It was only recently that Haryana government requested the Supreme Court for an early verdict. The additional solicitor extended supported the Haryana cause which upset the Punjab government headed by Parkash Singh Badal.
Punjab Chief Minister announced that not a single drop of water would be given to Haryana and the acquisition of the land of SYL was denotified and the farmers were asked to take back their land in three districts of Ropar, Fatehgarh Sahib and Patiala. The Chief Minister also sent a cheque of Rs. 197 crore to Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar as payment of the land made to farmers in Haryana. Haryana Chief Minister has returned the cheque.
Meanwhile, the owners of land in three districts with the support of the Akali Dal and the Congress leaders started taking possession of land.
As the Supreme Court directed status quo in the matter, the Punjab Vidhan Sabha again passed a resolution defying the apex court order. The Supreme Court also formed a three-member committee comprising the union home secretary, Chief Secretary, Punjab and DGP of Punjab Police to ensure the implementation of the court orders. The operations to destroy the SYL canal and taking of possession have been stopped by the farmers following the court.
However, deadlock continues as Punjab has refused to abide by the Apex Court order and there is tension between the two states on this issue.
The Haryana government has reacted bitterly against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s statement who supported the Punjab farmers cause that Punjab does not have spare water. The Haryana Government has threatened to stop the water supply to Delhi and if this happens, Delhi would face severe water shortage. During the jat agitation too, Haryana had stopped the supply of water to Delhi.
Intriguingly the central government has adopted a silent attitude and is not showing any interest in resolving the deadlock. Three parties namely Shiromani Akalidal, Congress and AAP are playing competitive politics in the matter and are arousing the sentiments of the people without bothering about the consequences of the same. The central government needs to take immediate remedial measures and defuse the situation.
KS Chawla is a veteran journalist.
He can be reached at 9988644244