SC ruling on SYL canal: How political parties vie to be seen as sole protectors of Punjab’s waters

An emergency session of the Vidhan Sabha has been called for November 16 where a resolution is expected to be passed stating that Punjab does not have any water to spare.

Written by Man Aman Singh Chhina | Chandigarh | Published:November 11, 2016 1:38 pm
india drought, india water problem, india water crisis, latur drought, marathwada water, india water crisis, india news Dilapidated Satluj Yamuna Link Canal at Ropar. (Express photograph by Swadesh Talwar)

The Supreme Court ruling on the Punjab Termination of Waters Act 2004 has resulted in a flurry of political activity in the poll-bound state with each major political party doing its utmost to project itself as the protector of the state’s waters. First off the block was the Congress which had a blueprint ready for action as an adverse ruling for Punjab was widely expected.

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The Pradesh Congress Committee President, Capt Amarinder Singh, lost no time in tendering his resignation from the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat and announced that all 42 party MLAs would tender their resignations, which they did this morning in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha.

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruling combine called an emergency Cabinet meeting in which it reiterated that come what may, Punjab will not share its waters because it is already suffering from a severe water shortage and that the interests of the farmers would be harmed if the Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal was completed.

With the Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal having been bestowed with the title of ‘Kisana da messiah’ (Messiah of farmers) and the Deputy Chief Minister with “Paaniyan da Raakha’ (Protector of waters) during the previous round of political action on the SYL canal issue, the party has tried to position itself as the sole protector of the waters of the state.

An emergency session of the Vidhan Sabha has been called for November 16 where a resolution is expected to be passed stating that Punjab does not have any water to spare. It is also expected that one of the clauses in the water-sharing agreement between Punjab and Haryana, which allows the present flow of water from Punjab to Haryana, may also be abrogated in this session.

The third player in the Punjab elections this time, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which was caught napping the previous time when the issue was came up a few months ago—and was criticized for its silence by both Akalis and the Congress — has announced a `dharna’ at the SYL canal in a village in Patiala district.

The SYL issue has acquired the dimensions of a perception battle for all political parties. While the issue of sharing waters of the state is a cause for concern for the farmers, it is also widely known that no immediate precipitous step will be taken by any party in the conflict, be it the central government, or Haryana, in an election year. It remains a moot point whether the SYL issue has the same traction on the ground in the state as other issues like drugs, corruption, muscle power, etc.

Be that as it may, the Congress has positioned itself as the first mover in the controversy with Capt Amarinder Singh claiming that it was his government which passed the water agreement termination bill and thus credits himself and his party for protecting the interests of Punjab.

The SAD points out that it was the Congress government which had cleared the SYL canal proposal and that the whole problem was created by the Congress which failed to realise the harm such a canal would do to Punjab. The BJP, which is an alliance partner of SAD and is in power in Haryana, supports the Akalis.

With nearly two and a half months before state elections, it may be tough for the political parties to keep the SYL controversy alive as a poll issue. However, it will definitely resurface when a new government takes office and the noise may even be shriller, resulting a nasty inter-state tussle.