Flagging a canal

BJP talks nationalism at the Centre, turns a blind eye to ally SAD’s disregard of the national interest in Punjab.

Written by Nirupama Subramanian | Updated: March 18, 2016 12:13 am
SAD, SYL, Satluj-Yamuna Link, Shiromani Akali Dal, haryana govt, Satluj-Yamuna Link bill, SYL unconstitutional, Punjab Sutlej Yamuna Link Canal Land, captain amarinder singh, khattar government, indian express editorial, indian express The SYL canal project was conceived to channel Haryana’s share of the waters of the Ravi and Beas.

In this season of nationalists, anti-nationalists and seditionists, Kanhaiya Kumar-baiters who are hunting out “insects” across the country might be too busy to notice what is roiling Punjab and Haryana these days.

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is pleased as punch at the political march it has stolen over the Congress in the state by passing the Punjab Satluj-Yamuna Link Canal Land (Transfer of Property Rights) Bill, 2016 legislation to return land acquired for the SYL canal to the owners or their successors. The Congress is going blue in the face claiming that it was the one that cast the first fist of mud into the canal, with its Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004 in the Punjab Assembly.

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The SYL canal project was conceived to channel Haryana’s share of the waters of the Ravi and Beas. Punjab says it has “not a drop of water to share” with any other state. The competitive politics in Punjab between the SAD and the Congress, and lately the Aam Aadmi Party, to deny water to Haryana, a non-riparian state, goes against the spirit of nation-building. If India can share water with Pakistan, why not Haryana?

Back in 2004, this is what the Supreme Court had to say about Punjab’s stand against the SYL canal: “By refusing to comply with the decree of this Court under Article 131 not only is the offending party [Punjab] guilty of contempt but the very foundation of the Constitution which the people governing the State have sworn to uphold when assuming office and to which this country owes its continued existence, is shaken [emphasis added]. It is, we repeat, the Constitutional duty of those who wield power in the States to create the appropriate political climate to ensure a respect for the constitutional processes and not set such processes at naught only to gain political mileage.”

The court further quoted the constitutional bench on an ordinance passed by Karnataka annulling the award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal: “Such an act is an invitation to lawlessness and anarchy, inasmuch as the Ordinance is a manifestation of a desire on the part of the State to be a judge in its own cause and to defy the decisions of the judicial authorities. The action forebodes evil consequences to the federal structure [emphasis added] under the Constitution and opens doors for each State to act in the way it desires disregarding not only the rights of the other States, the orders passed by instrumentalities constituted under an Act of Parliament but also the provisions of the Constitution. If the power of a State to issue such an Ordinance is upheld it will lead to the breakdown of the constitutional mechanism and affect the unity and integrity of the nation [emphasis added]”.

But you won’t see those who gave such an unforgettable crash course to the entire country on what it means to be a true nationalist pouncing on what has just happened in Punjab as anti-nationalism. Although they don’t even have to doctor any video. It’s all there in the record of the Punjab Assembly.

“Na rahega baans, na bajegi bansuri”. Those were Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s exact words as he proposed the legislation to return the acquired land back to the owners. In 2002, the Supreme Court had pointed out that Rs 700 crore, most of it paid by the Centre, had already been spent on the construction of the canal, and such a large sum from the national exchequer must not be allowed to go to waste. But without waiting for the governor’s assent to the bill, Akali Dal and Congress politicians have rushed to the canal site on both sides of its alignment through Punjab, and have begun filling up the canal. Earthmovers are at work, uprooting hundreds of trees planted along the canal as they scoop up the mud to dump into the canal, which has never seen a drop of water flow through it.

Such actions could not have come from those with any regard for the country. Punjab’s brinkmanship on the SYL canal is a severe test for inter-state relations and is bound to have an echo across the country in states that have similar disputes with their neighbours. But those who shout about nationalism from India’s highest offices are quiet now. In any case, it’s not their wont to talk about nationalism that brings people together. That’s a hard slog and it’s too bookish, very constitutional, only for intellectuals at JNU and other campuses. Besides, it does not yield any dividend after the five-year lock-in time. Easier and more profitable is the nationalism that tears people apart — it only involves unleashing a few thugs here and there in the name of one identity or another. There’s an election to be won in Punjab. Everything is kosher. The otherwise stern and unforgiving Union home ministry is even so agreeable as to release a couple of pro-Khalistani militants every now and then to keep the SAD’s hearth burning.

The BJP in Punjab is so chuffed about the SAD’s perceived masterstroke on the SYL canal that it has been dismissive of the cries for help from Haryana, which the party runs. Not surprisingly, the protests from the Manohar Lal Khattar government have been muted. “Wahan key logon ki awaz uthana unka kaam hai, Punjab key logon ki awaz uthana hamara kaam hai,” a BJP luminary in Punjab told this writer blithely, quite aware that he was spouting pure opportunistic parochialism. There’s not a peep out of the Centre yet to rein in the NDA constituent in Punjab.

In January 2002, the Supreme Court said: “It is equally a matter of great concern for this Court that the Central Government is taking an indifferent attitude in the matter and is only trying to while away the time, even though [it] continues to pay the State of Punjab substantially, even for maintenance of the operation of canal that has already been dug.” The court had said if Punjab failed to carry out work on the canal and make it functional in a year, it was the Centre’s responsibility to step in and get the construction completed through its own agencies “as expeditiously as possible”.

But the Centre acts as if the dispute does not concern it at all. Minister Smriti Irani, it is not college campuses and universities that need the Tricolour so much as the SYL canal right now, before it is all hastily filled up and buried forever, and the burial presented to the nation as a fait accompli.