Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal will call on President Pranab Mukherjee on Monday to draw his attention to the recent Supreme Court verdict on SYL canal issue which had favoured Haryana. The Chief Minister will meet the President at Rashtrapti Bhawan and will be accompanied by the members of his Council of Ministers besides all the MPs of the ruling SAD-BJP alliance in the state.
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Badal’s Advisor on National Affairs and Media Harcharan Bains said the Chief Minister would stress the need for resolving the river waters issue strictly as per the riparian principle which had been adopted in all similar disputes in the country in which a state through which a river does not pass has no right on its waters. In this case, neither Sutlej nor Ravi and Beas pass through Haryana and Rajasthan and therefore those state cannot claim a share on the waters of these rivers as a matter of right, he said.
The Chief Minster would request the President in his capacity as the supreme custodian of the Constitution to ensure that the constitutional provisions on the river waters issue are fully respected, he added. The Constitution does not empower the central government to adjudicate on the river waters distribution among states and that task can only be performed by a tribunal set up to decide the claims of only the riparian states, said Bains.
He said the constitutional position on the river waters issue is very clear as it guarantees that only the riparian states have a right on the waters of the concerned rivers. As per the Constitution, the central government cannot adjudicate on the distribution of river waters between states.
But the Punjab Reorganisation Act 1966 flouted this Constitutional position through Clause 78 which authorised the Union government to decide on the share of waters between Punjab and non-riparian Haryana. Besides, even where a tribunal is set up, it can only adjudicate on share of river waters among riparian states, he said, adding that no non-riparian state can even claim to be heard by the tribunal and this position had already been upheld in several river waters disputes, including the Narmada dispute.
Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi are the non-riparian states with regard to Sutlej, Ravi and Beas, Bains said. The CM’s Advisor said a petition filed by the Punjab government was already pending before the apex court, seeking the scrapping of the Clause 78 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act.
The provision was challenged by the SAD government headed by Badal in 1980. But the government was dismissed and the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had “arm-twisted” the then Punjab Chief Minister Darbara Singh into withdrawing this petition and sign away Punjab’s rights on its river waters, he said. Badal as the Chief Minister again challenged the clause before the apex court and a decision on the petition is still awaited. Therefore, there was no justification for constructing a canal for which there is no water available, he said.
“Punjab seeks no favours, it merely demands that justice be done to it. As a riparian state, it has exclusive rights over its waters. With fast dwindling sub-soil water table, experts believe the state faces the prospect of turning into a desert in the next few years. It does not have a single drop of water to spare for others as it is not able to meet even its own requirements,” Bains said.
Notably, Punjab council of ministers had already declared that Punjab would accept no decision on river water issue which violated the nationally and internationally accepted riparian principle. It has also de-notified the acquisition of land acquired for the Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal. A notification to this effect has already been issued.
The Punjab Assembly has also passed a resolution directing the state government and its executive and administrative machinery to ensure that the land which had been acquired for SYL is returned to its original owners. The state Cabinet had also decided this month that it would request the President not to accept the verdict of Supreme Court which held as unconstitutional the 2004 law passed by it to terminate the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal water sharing agreement with neighbouring states.