Political Upheaval in Punjab As Supreme Court Directs it to Share Sutlej Water

Punjab congress MLAs resigned en masse and Amarinder Singh quit as Lok Sabha MP after the court ruled that Punjab had no right to unilaterally terminate water-sharing agreements over the Satluj Yamuna Link Canal with neighbouring states.


Amarinder Singh. Credit: PTI

A war of words broke out on social media between the leaders of Congress, Aam Aadmi Party and the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) soon after a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court, while answering the Presidential Reference, held that Punjab could not unilaterally terminate the water sharing agreement with Haryana, Delhi and other states and restored the 2004 decree passed by it which had directed the state to construct the Sutlej Yamuna link (SYL) Canal on its territory.

Soon after the verdict, all Punjab congress MLAs resigned in protest and the state party unit chief Amarinder Singh resigned from the Lok Sabha to show his anguish at the decision.

Interestingly, it was Singh, who had as the chief minister of Punjab in 2004, precipitated a constitutional crisis when instead of honouring the Supreme Court order on taking up construction of the SYL canal, he had convened a special one-day session of the Punjab assembly.

The session had resulted in a unanimous approval of the Bill for terminating all agreements relating to sharing of waters of the Ravi and Beas rivers with Haryana and Rajasthan which the governor had approved.

The latest order of the Supreme Court has led to a heated exchange of words among leaders of the three main parties in Punjab. In Haryana on the other hand – a state that would benefit from the decision – leaders of all the parties have hailed the verdict.

On his part, the Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar hailed the decision saying that the order on the vital issue, which came after a gap of 12 years, had brought smile on the face of every “Haryanavi” because now the state would get its legitimate share of surplus Ravi-Beas water – which is approximately 3.5 million acre feet.

The apex court gave its decision in favour of Haryana on all the four points for which the Presidential Reference was sought. These points were:

  • Whether the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004, and the provision thereof are in accordance with the provisions of the constitution of India;
  • Whether the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004, and the provisions thereof are in accordance with the provisions of Section 14 of Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956, Section 78 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966 and the notification dated March 24, 1976 issued there under;
  • Whether the state of Punjab has validly terminated the agreement dated December 31, 1981 and all other agreements relating to the Ravi-Beas waters and is discharged from its obligation under the said agreements;
  • Whether in view of the provisions of the Act, the state of Punjab is discharged from its obligations flowing from the judgement and decree dated January 1, 2002 and judgement and order dated June 4, 2004 of the Supreme Court.

The bench led by Justice Anil R. Dave had answered in the negative to all the questions referred to it by the president, which effectively meant that Punjab would have to honour the agreement to share water with Haryana, Delhi and other states.

Soon after the Supreme Court gave its verdict, the politics over the issue began.

Shiromani Akali Dal tweeted saying they would not allow a single drop of water to go out of Punjab.

Its leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal also tweeted her defiance to the verdict.

Congress state president and the likely chief ministerial candidate Singh announced his resignation from Lok Sabha and all the party legislators resigned en masse from the state assembly in protest.

In a letter to the speaker, Singh wrote that the Supreme Court ruling had come as a major blow to the people of Punjab and accused the Centre and the state government of failing to come to their rescue.

Aam Aadmi Party, which has emerged as a serious contender in the upcoming Punjab assembly elections, retweeted Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala’s tweet in which he had said that the Supreme Court ruling had put a stamp of approval on Haryana’s right and it was a victory for the struggle of the state’s farmers.

Party leader Arvind Kejriwal also retweeted invitations of the SYL canal launch in 1982 to show how Singh was actually in favour of it.

The Akalis leader retaliated saying Kejriwal had himself supported the release of water to Haryana from the SYL.

Clearly, the SYL issue is now expected to queer the political pitch in the Punjab assembly elections.