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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Explained: Canal to nowhere — Why the SYL is a stalemate with no winners

The issue dates back to 1966 at the time of reorganisation of Punjab. When Haryana was formed, a need arose to share river waters with the newly formed state.

Written by Kanchan Vasdev |
Updated: September 24, 2019 10:29:00 am
syl canal, syl canal issue, sutlej yamuna link, sutlej yamuna link canal issue, punjab haryana canal issue, punjab haryana water issue, amarinder singh, capt amarinder singh, india news, Indian Express Water of Bhakra Canal (left) released to SYL Canal in Haryana. (Archive)

The recent Supreme Court order asking Punjab, Haryana and Centre to sort out SYL issue amicably, has brought to centre stage the contentious issue of sharing of waters between the two states. The Indian Express explains why Punjab would not give away a single drop and Haryana won’t drop its claim.

What is the issue?

The issue dates back to 1966 at the time of reorganisation of Punjab. When Haryana was formed, a need arose to share river waters with the newly formed state. But Punjab was opposed to sharing waters of Ravi and Beas rivers with Haryana citing riparian principle.

What was Punjab’s share?

A decade before the formation of Haryana, the water flowing down Ravi and Beas was assessed at 15.85 million acre feet (MAF). Union government had organised a meeting in 1955 between the three stake-holders Rajasthan, undivided Punjab and J&K. While Rajasthan was allotted 8 MAF, undivided Punjab’s share was 7.20 MAF and J&K got 0.65 MAF. A decade after reorganisation, the Centre issued a notification allocating 3.5 MAF to Haryana out of 7.2 MAF, Punjab’s total share before its reorganisation. In a reassessment of water in 1981, the water flowing down Beas and Ravi was pegged at 17.17 MAF, out of which 4.22 MAF was allocated to Punjab, 3.5 MAF to Haryana, and 8.6 MAF to Rajasthan.

When did SYL come into being?

On April 8, 1982, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi launched the construction of Satluj-Yamuna Link canal, by organising a groundbreaking ceremony in Kapoori village in Patiala district. A stretch of 214 km SYL was to be constructed out of which 122 km was to cross Punjab and the rest 92 km in Haryana. But Akalis launched an

agitation in the form of Kapoori Morcha against the construction of the canal. Then in July 1985, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the then Akali Dal chief Sant Harchand Singh Longowal signed an accord agreeing for a new tribunal to assess the water.

What was the Eradi Tribunal?

The Eradi Tribunal headed by Supreme Court Judge V Balakrishna Eradi was set up to reassess availability and sharing of water.

The Tribunal, in 1987, recommended an increase in the shares of Punjab and Haryana to 5 MAF and 3.83 MAF, respectively.

Why does Chief Minister Amarinder Singh link construction of SYL to terrorism in state?

On August 20, 1985, Longowal was killed by militants, in less than a month for signing the accord. In 1990, a chief engineer M L Sekhri and a Superintending Engineer Avtar Singh Aulakh were killed by militants.

In two different violent incidents labourers were shot dead in Majat village near Chunni and Bharatgarh near Ropar. The construction came to a halt. In the backdrop of these incidents, Amarinder has been cautioning the Centre not to rake up the issue again.

Why does Punjab government argue that water situation has worsened from past three decades?

As per government’s study, state’s many areas may go dry after 2029. The state has already over-exploited its groundwater for irrigation purposes as it fills granaries of centre by growing wheat and paddy worth Rs 70,000 crore every year. As per the reports, water in about 79 per cent area of the state is over-exploited. Out of 138 blocks, 109 blocks are “over-exploited”, two blocks are “critical” five blocks are “semi-critical” and only 22 blocks are in “safe” category. In such a situation when farmers are committing suicides and alarm button has been pressed for saving water, the government says, sharing it with any other state is impossible.

What is Haryana’s claim?

Haryana has been staking claim on Ravi-Beas waters through SYL canal on the plea that providing water for irrigation was a tough task for the state. In southern parts, where the underground water had depleted up to 1700 feet, there was a problem of drinking water.

Haryana has been invoking its contribution to the central food bowl and lamenting that justice had been denied to the state by not providing it its rightful share in the water as assessed by a tribunal.

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