Punjab is not cooperating to resolve the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal issue, the central government has told the Supreme Court, referring to a water-sharing dispute that’s lingering for over three decades now. The canal, which is to give water mainly to Haryana and some to Delhi, remains incomplete.
In its latest affidavit, the Centre said the Chief Minister of Punjab has not responded to its letter for a meeting with the Haryana Chief Minister and Union Jal Shakti minister, which the court had suggested for an amicable solution.
Despite the Supreme Court having ruled in favour of Haryana in 2002 on a plea seeking completion of the canal, Punjab’s politics — even its pop culture — continues to be opposed to the project, saying that it impinges on the state’s rights.
Such is its emotive value that Sidhu Moose Wala’s song ‘SYL’, released recently after his death, became a flashpoint between Punjab and the Centre.
No party in Punjab — not even state units of national parties — supports the canal overtly.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which at present rules both Punjab and Delhi, found itself in a fix recently after its Haryana incharge promised that SYL will be built. Its Punjab unit later stressed that won’t happen, while at the national level it’s held the stand that an amicable solution — as suggested by the Supreme court — will work best anyway.
As for the other parties, a Congress government in 2004, under Capt Amarinder Singh, had passed a law unilaterally cancelling SYL and other such pacts. And when this law was struck down by court in 2016, the then Akali-BJP government went ahead and “returned” the acquired land to farmers, thus seeking to bury the issue, literally.
At the national level, both Congress and BJP also back the “amicable solution” suggestion of the court.
In the court, at the latest hearing, Attorney General of India KK Venugopal said the Centre wrote to Punjab’s chief ministers in the past too, but no response was received. “A letter was written to the new CM of Punjab in April and he hasn’t replied yet,” the Centre’s lawyer told the court, which set the next hearing got January 15, 2023.
In July 2020, the court had directed the chief ministers of Haryana and Punjab to meet and tell the court if they can resolve it on their own. The Centre was confident it could find a resolution through talks, but sought three months. The court gave four instead. Haryana, too, had argued that there should be a timeline.
The court had stressed that the canal will “have to be constructed”. As to how much water flows in it, that can be decided later, it had added.
On the ground, though, the previous Congress government told the court that “it is not possible to take back the land given back to farmers after a notification”.
Referring to the 1966 reorganisation of Punjab by which Haryana was carved out, the Punjab government has been saying the Centre failed to be a mediator on distribution of water. “It was the responsibility of the central government to constitute a water tribunal, but it did not do so,” Punjab has submitted at previous hearings.
Work on the canal began in the 1980s.
Haryana, in the latest, passed a resolution in its assembly in favour of the canal in April this year.