The water-sharing row between Punjab and Haryana is set to take centrestage again. On Monday, a five-member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court began hearings on the presidential reference pertaining to Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004.
The legislation, passed by the then Punjab Assembly when Capt Amarinder Singh was the chief minister, had terminated all water-sharing agreements between Punjab and its neighbouring states, thereby jeopardising the construction of the Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) canal. Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar told the Bench that the Centre stood by the Supreme Court judgements that the canal should go ahead. The next hearing is on March 8.
As news of the SG’s statement filtered to Punjab, both the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party attacked the Centre and the ruling SAD-BJP combine in the state for “betraying” Punjab. With the issue a political hot potato, it came up for discussion in the Punjab cabinet meeting held on Tuesday.
Amarinder, who counts the legislation as one of his big achievements and is hailed by many as the “saviour of Punjab’s waters”, lashed out at the Centre’s contention in the Supreme Court. In a statement issued on Tuesday, the now Punjab Congress president said the “BJP-led government at the Centre had committed the worst betrayal with Punjab by opposing its stand on water-sharing and supporting Haryana”.
He also took a swipe at the Akali Dal, saying that he did not rule out Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s “complicity” in the matter. “Since Akali Dal is part of the government, it shares equal responsibility for betraying and compromising Punjab’s interests in the Supreme Court,” he said.
Amarinder alleged that “in 1978 when [Badal] was the Punjab chief minister, [he] accepted Rs 2 crore from his Haryana counterpart Devi Lal for construction of the SYL canal” and added that “Punjab was still paying the price”. “Badal accepted the money as he put his friendship with Devi Lal above Punjab’s interests, which he seems to have done once again,” Amarinder said. “Much water has flown down the Satluj since the idea of SYL was conceived and today there is virtually no water left neither in Punjab’s rivers nor underground even for its own needs,” he added.
AAP too joined the issue. The party’s Punjab affairs in-charge Sanjay Singh while slamming Modi government for “taking a stand against Punjab”, said his party will only stand for the interests of Punjab and Punjabis.
The ruling SAD and BJP also said they would take up the matter with Centre. After the cabinet meeting, Punjab Irrigation Minister Sharanjit Singh Dhillon said: “Punjab BJP is with us on the issue. We will take up the matter with the Centre”. The BJP too said it would take up the matter with the Centre. “Punjab is already water deficient. We will impress upon the central government that Punjab has no extra water to share with Haryana,” said BJP minister Madan Mohan Mittal.
His counterpart in the Cabinet, Surjit Kumar Jyani, who was not present at the cabinet meeting, said that that the government should first ensure Punjab gets all the water it needs. “If there is extra water, only then the probability to share water with Haryana could be considered,” Jyani. said