Scrambling to outdo each other in poll-bound Punjab, political parties, from SAD (Badal) to Congress to AAP, reacted furiously after the Supreme Court Thursday struck down the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004. The state cabinet decided to call an emergency session of the assembly on November 16 and meet President Pranab Mukherjee on the matter.
Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal called the Satluj-Yamuna Link canal a “death warrant” for Punjab while state Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh said he was resigning as a member of Lok Sabha. Congress legislators too will resign from the state assembly Friday.
Meeting shortly after the Supreme Court ruling, the Punjab council of ministers, in a resolution, said the state government will not allow construction of the SYL canal. It also announced that a campaign called ‘Paani Bachao, Punjab Bachao’ will be launched in Moga on December 8 — the SAD (Badal) had already planned a rally in Moga on that day, the birthday of Chief Minister Badal.
An Akali leader said a Bill is likely to be introduced and passed by the assembly to tide over the crisis in view of the court order. The Bill, the leader said, is likely to underline that Punjab is already water-deficient and, therefore, not in a position to share water.
Asked about the Bill, Chief Minister Badal said: “Whatever we can do legally, we will do that.” He said the Punjab Advocate General has been told to study the legal aspects. “Whatever legal steps can be taken, Advocate General has been asked to study. Our job is to ensure… not let any water go out,” he said.
Badal and his son Sukhbir ruled out the possibility of Akali legislators resigning over the issue, saying this would lead to President’s rule which the Congress wanted.
The Chief Minister described Amarinder Singh’s resignation from Lok Sabha as “political drama”. Sukhbir Badal said: “I want to ask Captain, why (Congress MP Ravneet Singh) Bittu and other MPs of the party are not resigning. He (Amarinder) is fighting the assembly elections. It is all drama. First, he should make all party MPs resign over the issue. Second, he should quit Congress.”
The Chief Minister said it was Indira Gandhi who had come to Punjab to start digging of the canal and Amarinder Singh had then distributed ladoos.
The Punjab cabinet resolution Thursday too underlined that Indira Gandhi “forced the then Congress Chief Minister of Punjab, Darbara Singh, into signing an agreement to give away Punjab’s water to Haryana, forcing him to withdraw the Supreme Court cases filed by previous Chief Minister Sardar Parkash Singh Badal to protect Punjab river water interests.”
“This (Satluj water) is our lifeline. We cannot live without it. Wells are drying up, canal water is also very deficient. To save the country, no water should be taken from Punjab,” Badal said.
BJP minister Madan Mohan Mittal said the Punjab BJP was on the same page with the SAD on this issue despite there being a BJP government in Haryana.
The AAP also hit out at the Congress, questioning why only Amarinder Singh, and no other Congressman, had resigned. It described the resignations as “gimmickry”.
The Congress, on its part, asked AAP leader and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal to “make clear” his stand on the SYL issue.
Within minutes of the Supreme Court ruling, the Punjab Congress announced that all its MLAs would resign.
Speaking to reporters after mailing his resignation letter to the Lok Sabha Speaker, Amarinder Singh called for early elections and President’s rule in the state.
“I promise the people of Punjab that if voted to power, the Congress party will steer through and ensure the passing of such law to restore to the State of Punjab its rightful rights to the river waters,” he said.
But the reaction of the Congress in New Delhi was different from that of its Punjab unit. Lobbing the ball in the Centre’s court, the Congress hailed the Supreme Court order as a “victory of justice.”
“Mr Prime Minister, come clean in the eyes of justice. 2.5 crore people of Haryana are not begging but demanding their rights,” Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala tweeted. He hails from Haryana. “A historic and path breaking verdict by Supreme Court upholds Haryana’s claim on SYL. Victory for people, justice for Haryana,” Surjewala said.
Congress leader Tom Vadakkan said the issue needs to be sorted out with dialogue, not monologue. “The ball is in the PM’s court. This involves two states where the BJP plays a prominent role. So we expect the PM to act,” he told reporters.