The battle to claim political credit for dismantling the Satluj-Yamuna Link Canal project has shifted from the floor of the Punjab Assembly to the land acquired for the project, with the ruling SAD and opposition Congress vying with each other to fill dug up areas and return them to farmers across a 122-km stretch of the state.
Governor Kaptan Singh Solanki is yet to take a call on the Punjab Satluj-Yamuna Link Canal Land (Transfer of Property Rights) Bill, 2016, but on the ground it is a fait accompli. Across four districts of Punjab, the administration stood back as Akali and Congress workers competed to take the lead in filling up the dry canal.
At Bhateri village in Fatehgarh, local SAD leaders arrived with JCBs. The earthmovers began filling the canal, uprooting scores of trees in the process. The SAD workers sipped tea and supervised the operations. Impromptu langars came up. Tractor trolleys carried away the felled trees. A youth driving one of the trolleys said he was taking the load to a gurdwara to be used as fuel.
Local SAD leader Jagdeep Cheema, who was present at the site, said land owners had “pooled money for JCB machines”.
In Banur in Patiala, the Youth Akali Dal (YAD) wing arrived at the canal with two dozen JCBs. Asked about the hurry to fill up the canal, YAD leader Harpal Juneja said, “The state government has passed the bill unanimously, and there is no use of this dry canal. It is better if the land can be used by its original owners at the earliest.” He added that he and his YAD team members had arranged the JCBs as the farmers cannot afford them.
In Ropar district, villagers said they had been asked by SAD leaders to start any kind of work on their land. In Sirsa Nangal village, 10 JCBs were toiling away at different sites.
While SAD leaders ensured their presence in Ropar and Fatehgarh Sahib districts, the Congress led by Patiala MLA Preneet Kaur and leader of opposition Charanjit Singh Channi dashed to Kapoori in Patiala district, the place where then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had inaugurated the canal digging on April 8, 1982.
The Aam Aadmi Party had tried to corner PPCC chief Captain Amarinder Singh by bringing up his presence at that function. Amarinder’s wife Preneet’s presence at Kapoori today appeared to be aimed at countering AAP.
Earlier, Amarinder exhorted all Punjabis to start filling up the canal and ensure it was levelled at the earliest to save 9 lakh acres of fertile Malwa land from turning barren. “Since the bill has been passed by the Assembly, people are filling the land with enthusiasm. After all, it has been decided by the Assembly,” said Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia.