A day after the Punjab Cabinet denotified the land acquired for the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal project, the State Assembly Wednesday passed a resolution directing the state government, Cabinet and all government officials not to hand over any land in Punjab for the construction of the canal or allow anybody to work or cooperate for the project.
The resolution, introduced by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, was passed unanimously in the House. Congress legislators, who had resigned in protest against the Supreme Court’s order earlier this month declaring Punjab Termination of Agreements Act 2004 as invalid, did not attend the emergency session called for the purpose. Punjab Vidhan Sabha Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal is yet to take a decision on whether to accept their resignations or not.
The Assembly also directed the State government to claim costs of its waters shared with non-riparian States of Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi along with royalty since November 1, 1966, when reorganisation of States took place.
Giving historical references to claim royalty was paid by non-riparian States to riparian States for any sharing of water, BJP minister Madan Mohan Mittal moved a resolution where the House recommended to the State government “to immediately take up the matter with the Central government regarding securing royalty from non-riparian States in lieu of releasing river waters to these States…. so as to undo the injustice and high-handedness meted out to the State for decades by Congress-led governments in Punjab and at the Centre”.
The Bains brothers, elected to the Assembly as Independents from Ludhiana, opposed the resolution in the form it was presented. Balwinder Singh Bains objected to the use of word royalty but said the cost of river waters should be claimed. Simarjit Singh Bains said that instead of approaching the Centre, the water bill should be sent to non-riparian States.
This led Mittal to make some changes in the resolution he presented by including the word “cost” in it.
After Bains brothers raised the issue, SAD president and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal said that State government would seek cost of the water and royalty from Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi. SAD and Congress have been questioning AAP national convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s silence on the SYL issue following the SC order on November 10.
Mittal said that besides writing to the Centre, the State government would also write to the three states to claim money for the water shared with them.
Amid a prolonged heated exchanged between the ruling benches and Simratjit Bains, who alleged he was not being allowed to present his viewpoint by the Speaker, the Bains brothers resigned from the Assembly, throwing their resignations even as marshals prevented them from heading towards Speaker who they insisted should accept their resignation.
Rebel Akali MLA Pargat Singh also resigned from the Assembly in protest against the SC order and SAD-BJP government’s “failure” to safeguard State’s interests on the issue.
Earlier, while moving the resolution, the CM referred to entries in the State list in the 7th Schedule of Constitution to underline that Punjab had legislative and executive rights over the whole land falling under its boundaries and over water supply, irrigation and canals, drains, pathways, water reservoirs and hydroelectricity. “House takes the notice of this fact that Punjab needs 56 MAF (million acres feet) of water for agriculture, out of which river waters amount to only 27 per cent,” Badal said, adding that Central Ground Water Board had already declared 105 out of 138 blocks as overexploited.
“Without requisite waters, Punjab, which is the grain bowl of India, is continuously becoming barren and resultantly posing a threat to National Food Security and State economy,” Badal said in the resolution he made.
Taking a swipe at Congress legislators for not attending the special session, Badal blamed the party for starting the SYL controversy by accusing its leaders of according administrative approval and starting the digging work for canal.
Asserting that these were not resolutions but directions by the Assembly, Sukhbir Badal said that after denotification of SYL land and directions by the legislature, the SYL canal issue had been given the “final burial”. He said teams of finance and irrigation departments would be formed under the chief secretary to assess the cost and royalty payable by other states who have been utilizing river waters of Punjab.
Speaking on the issue, SAD spokesperson and minister Daljit Singh Cheema said if anyone disobeyed the direction of the resolution passed by Assembly, the privilege committee should take strict action.
Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh called the resolutions passed on Wednesday “irrational and illogical”, saying the State government did not have surplus water “to either buy or sell”.
Terming it as “a first right step in the right direction to correct the wrongs of the past”, Dal Khalsa noted “without issuing ultimatum to non-riparian states for repaying the cost within a specific timeframe and controlling the headworks, all efforts may end up in futility.”