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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Why Punjab wants a fresh tribunal to assess river water availability

Punjab is facing a severe water crisis with the wheat/paddy cycle and over-exploitation of groundwater for agriculture wreaking havoc on its resources.

Written by Kanchan Vasdev | Published: January 24, 2020 11:47:15 am
Satluj Yamuna Link Canal, Satluj Yamuna Link Canal issue, Punjab and Haryana water crisis, syl canal issue, punjab haryana water problem, punjab haryana water crisis, express explained, indian express Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh and other leaders address the media after the meeting in Chandigarh on Thursday. (Source: CM Amarinder Singh via Twitter)

Punjab CM Amarinder Singh Thursday chaired an all-party meeting on the impending water crisis with state’s aquifers drying up and the volume of the river water too going down drastically. For a change, all parties were on the same page on the issue. Kanchan Vasdev explains:

What is the issue for which the meeting was called?

Punjab is facing a severe water crisis with the wheat/paddy cycle and over-exploitation of groundwater for agriculture wreaking havoc on its resources. The state is in no mood to share its waters with Haryana through the Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal. The Supreme Court had asked the Centre to find alternatives so the standoff between Punjab and Haryana over sharing of water is sorted. All parties in Punjab passed a resolution Thursday stating the state does not have water to share.

What is the water situation in Punjab?

According to the state’s own report, its underground water is overexploited to meet the agriculture requirements. As per the report, about 79 per cent area of the state is over-exploited. Out of 138 blocks, 109 are “over-exploited”, two are “critical” five are “semi-critical” and only 22 blocks are in “safe” category.

How is Punjab irrigated?

As much as 73 per cent of Punjab’s agriculture land is irrigated by tubewells that pump out underground water. The rest 27 per cent is irrigated by rivers. CM Amarinder Singh has stated that water in Punjab rivers has reduced from 17 MAF, as listed by the Eradi Commission, to less than 13 MAF now. If Punjab has to share even this water, it will be sheer injustice for the state which is already fast turning into a desert. The central groundwater department’s report says several areas in Punjab could go dry by 2029.

Why is Punjab seeking a fresh tribunal to assess river water available to the state?

The state’s argument is that more than 30 years ago, the Eradi Tribunal, “in a jiffy”, determined the total amount of water available with Punjab at 17.17 MAF and there was no “evidence” of this availability. “Things have only worsened over the three decades. Where is this much water available now?” argued a state functionary. The state’s argument is that world over, fresh tribunals are constituted after 20 years.

What next?

The CM, who during his previous tenure disobeyed his then party president Sonia Gandhi and passed The Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004, thereby abrogating the December 1981 inter-state agreement with Haryana and Rajasthan on apportioning of waters available in the Ravi-Beas river system, has been arguing that the “government respects the law but going by the niceties in law, how can it allow the state, that grows food for the entire nation, to turn into a desert?” The government has also been stating that in the 1980s, terrorism gripped the state when SYL was being constructed. The CM has also asked, “Do we want the same to be repeated…at a time when Pakistan is ready to foment trouble in India and 2020 referendum is staring in state’s face?”

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