New Delhi: The Supreme Court today said it was not averse to talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the chief ministers of Punjab and Haryana to resolve Satluj-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal issue but dignity of the court and the verdict should be “considered and respected”.
The top court’s remark came after a bench of justices P.C. Ghose and Amitava Roy was informed by solicitor general (SG) Ranjit Kumar that the prime minister has met Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh and his Haryana counterpart Manohar Lal Khattar on the issue on April 20 and there were points and counter-points from both the parties.
Maintaining that another round of meeting was also held on the contentious issue between Modi and the two chief ministers on the sidelines of a recent Niti Aayog meet with the Council of Chief Ministers, the solicitor general said if some time was given, then a solution could be explored.
“We have no issues if the matter is settled but there is a decree of this court and it should be taken into account during the talks,” the bench said.
It said the “dignity of this court and dignity of decree needs to be respected. We don’t wish to say anything further on the talks”.
Justice Ghose, who is to superannuate on May 27, when the top court will be on summer vacation, expressed regret for not being able to deliver the judgement due to paucity of time.
“When we started to hear the matter we were eager to deliver the verdict and settle the issue but due to deferment and adjournment, it could not be done,” justice Ghose, who headed the bench, said.
Senior advocate R.S. Suri, appearing for Punjab, said the prime minister met the two chief ministers and certain facts have come up which need to be ascertained.
Terming it as an emotive issue for both the parties, he said some time needs to be given as talks on it were yet to be considered as over.
Senior advocate Shyam Divan appearing for Haryana said that no fruitful result has come out of the meeting and the possibility of any amicable settlement also looks very remote.
“The matter has been pending before the bench since November last. There are already two decrees of the court and we are anxiously waiting for these to be executed by the plaintiff (Punjab),” he said, adding that the matter must be heard and decided.
To this, the bench said, “since holidays are coming and during this period if the matter is settled through talks then it is okay or we will proceed considering nothing fruitful has come out”.
It said there were two issues before the court – what is the effect of reference on the ground and what will be the impact if the decree of this court is not executed.
The apex court told the counsel for Haryana that it understood the anxiety of the state but he should also understand the situation at the ground-level on other side.
Divan said they have confidence in the court and that is why they are before it.
The top court then posted the matter for further hearing on July 11.
It had on April 12 said the court does not want to “shut the door” to an amicable settlement of SYL canal dispute as the Centre has expressed keenness to find a solution, saying it had convened a high-level meeting of Punjab and Haryana.
The Centre had told the top court that a meeting has been called at the highest level and it was very keen to find a solution.
While giving the Centre a chance to explore possibilities of an out-of-court settlement to the water dispute between the two neighbouring states, the top court made it clear that it would proceed with the hearing, if the bid failed.
Earlier, the Centre had made it clear that it was not taking any sides in the dispute between the northern riparian states which also included Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Union territory of Delhi.
In a stern message to Punjab, the apex court had on March 2 said its verdict allowing construction of the SYL canal in Haryana and Punjab has to be implemented.
A five-judge bench, while answering the presidential reference on November 11, 2016, had held that the Punjab Termination of Agreement Act, 2004 was unconstitutional as it negated the effect of apex court judgements of 2002 and 2004.
The court had favoured the construction of SYL canal.
Punjab had contended that the apex court order was not binding as it was given under its advisory jurisdiction and the Punjab law still stands.
It had said that the verdict, holding Punjab Termination of Agreement Act, 2004 as unconstitutional, did not render the law invalid, as the top court had only given an opinion on the presidential reference.
The apex court had on November 30 last year directed status quo on SYL canal and appointed Union home secretary, chief secretary of Punjab and Punjab DGP as court receivers of the lands, works, property and portions of the canal.
The court had also thwarted Punjab’s attempt to wriggle out of SYL water sharing pact, saying it cannot “unilaterally” terminate it or legislate to “nullify” the verdict of the highest court.
The controversial 1981 water-sharing agreement came into being after Haryana was carved out of Punjab in 1966. For effective allocation of water, the SYL canal link was conceptualised and both the states were required to construct their portions within their territories.
Haryana constructed the portion of SYL canal in its territory. However, Punjab, after the initial phase, stopped the work, leading to spate of litigations.
In 2004, the Congress government in the state came out with the Punjab Termination of Agreement Act with an intention to terminate the 1981 agreement and all other pacts relating to sharing of waters of rivers Ravi and Beas.
The apex court had first decreed the suit of Haryana in 2002 asking Punjab to honour its commitments with regard to water sharing in the case.
Punjab had challenged the verdict by filing an original suit that was rejected in 2004 by the Supreme Court which asked the Centre to take over the remaining infrastructural work of the SYL canal project.