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PRITAM SINGH Kumedan, an expert on inter-state river water dispute, has said that while Punjab does not have water to spare for Haryana, the SYL canal may not be completed anytime soon as the matter will be mired in judicial dispute for years to come. Kumedan, also a former Punjab civil servant, claimed it would be futile for the Punjab government to go to the President regarding the Supreme Court ruling on the Presidential reference. “I do not understand what good this will do. The views of the Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court have to prevail,” he said.
So, going by the SC ruling, will Punjab eventually have to share water with Haryana? Kumedan said that given the long time it takes to resolve such disputes in court and the fact that the Centre, too, may not want to precipitate matters, it was unlikely that this scenario could come forth for many years.
“In any case, Punjab does not have a drop of water to spare. No surplus water at all. The canals in the state are at half capacity with the exception of Bhakra from which water is already being taken by Haryana. The canal does not have any more capacity to carry water for Haryana and this is why the SYL canal was needed by them,” he explained.
Kumedan also blamed then chief minister Darbara Singh for withdrawing a case filed in the Supreme Court on the river water dispute by his predecessor, Parkash Singh Badal. “This petition challenged the 1974 award of giving water to Haryana and had asked the court to declare it null and void. Haryana had filed a counter-petition asking for the award to be implemented. However, Darbara Singh and then Haryana Chief Minister Bhajan Lal entered into an agreement and both the cases were withdrawn,” he said.
Having done extensive work on the sharing of Ravi and Beas waters with Rajasthan, Kumedan is of the opinion that the agreement with Rajasthan was also flawed as Punjab has been giving water to that state for free. “Water royalty used to be charged in the decades preceding Independence and it was charged from PEPSU till 1946. The erstwhile Bikaner state also used to give royalty,” he said.
Arguing that Rajasthan was being given water free of cost while farmers in Punjab use tubewells, thereby depleting the ground water, Kumedan said the agreement with Rajasthan does not say that the water is to be given for free. “We are causing harm to our water table and also using electricity to run these tubewells purchased by the state government at a hefty price. I have calculated that Rajasthan owes us Rs 80,000 crore as charges for the electricity we have used,” he stated, adding that even Delhi has to pay Haryana for the extra water it takes from Yamuna over and above its quota. “Water is a state subject and the state is the sole owner of it. But essentially, river water disputes can happen only between two riparian states. Tomorrow, if Tamil Nadu asks for Sutlej water, can it be given? Obviously there will be an issue,” added Kumedan.