With the construction of a new Hansi-Butana canal by the Haryana government, to arbitrarily draw water from the Sutlej-Beas rivers; the water issue has acquired a new dimension in already complicated disputes between Punjab and Haryana. Haryana has dug a 109km long canal with a cost of Rs.260 crores. It is ready for use, but its functioning is stalled by the Supreme Court of India, entertaining a Special Leave Petition from the Punjab government and referred the case to Central Water Commission for examination. Keeping in view the past practices and bias of the CWC against Punjab, it is likely that its findings would go in favour of Haryana.
Haryana has put logic that it would draw its own share of water from Bhakhra Main Line and not encroach upon the water rights of neighbouring states. But it seems to be a ploy to construct an alternative canal till final decision on Sutlej Yamuna Link (popularly known as SYL) is arrived at. The Supreme Court has already decided in favour of Haryana to complete the SYL. Unfortunately, from the Supreme Court down to the petty politicians of other states have failed to grasp the water needs of Punjab.
A sea change has occurred than the conditions of agriculture needs of Punjab on the eve of reorganization. Eighty-three percent of all arable land of Punjab has come under cultivation and it is not possible to bring more area under tilling. Cultivable land under irrigation has been increased from 70 % in 1971 to 95% in 2001-02. Number of bore wells has increased to 0.95 million from 0.19 million during the same period. Number of diesel and electricity run pump sets was 0.10 million and 0.09 million respectively. This number was increased to 0.17 million and 0.77 million in 2002. Government controlled large tube wells and domestic pump sets are excluded from the above category.
The union government of the congress, since transfer of power in 1947 has been interfering in water issue of the Punjab, owning to its wicked intentions, anti-Punjab biased attitude and vote politics considerations in Punjab and Haryana. It never adhered to constitutional laws and international covenants on division of waters; and remaining honest and impartial. Not only with the issue of river waters but also in cases of reorganization of Punjab state on the basis of language, inclusion of Punjabi speaking adjoining areas of other states into Punjab, handing over Chandigarh city to Punjab and so many other issues; it played an anti Punjab role. Thus, these problems of Punjab are unresolved and lingering on for decades due to congress party’s central government’s disgraceful political considerations and anti people character.
Due to this antagonistic attitude towards Punjabi Nationality and the Sikh religious minority (it is also true in case of other nationalities and minorities), the issues of Punjabi nationality are intermingled with the Sikh religious minority. And the blatant interference and crude violations by the union government has at many times led to alienation of the Sikh masses. Recurrent oppression and discriminations led to that political explosion, which shadowed the political scene of Punjab for more than a decade. The congress is the principal culprit in this anti-people and anti Punjab phenomena. But Akali leadership cannot escape responsibility for its opportunist and communal role.
With this strategy and approach by the central congress (similarly the government of the other ruling class parties) government, about forty-fifty thousand peoples lost their lives at the hands of security forces and the Sikh militants. Sending army and attacking the Golden Temple during the ‘Operation Blue Star’ hurt religious feelings of the Sikh community. Anti-Sikh riots of 1984 were engineered and thousand of innocent Sikhs and Punjabis were butchered in Delhi and other cities. Hundred of Sikh women were molested in and outside Punjab. Meanwhile, a treacherous document was imposed on Punjab in the name of Rajiv-Longowal accord. Now it has become crystal clear that this accord was nothing but a political stunt to hoodwink the Punjabis. This accord did not contain an iota of sincerity to resolve political tangle of Punjab. It is worth noting that the leading party in this accord – the Congress Party did not show any inkling to implement even a single clause of the this pact. There was either phrase-mongering or efforts have been made to impose water clause on Punjab with the assistance of courts. Thus, practically this accord died its own death.
Now, more than two decades have been elapsed of Rajiv-Longowal pact. Neither the union congress government nor the UDF/NDA governments had shown any sincerity to implement the accord. Nothing could be expected from the left supported present UPA government. The corpus of SYL issue is dug up from time to time from the grave with vulture-like eyes to grab votes. Ironically, the Indian judicial system, which did not take any notice of Punjab petition for decades, which did not take any step to punish killers of anti Sikh riots and the butcher police officers who massacred the youth of Punjab and burnt their body declaring them unidentified, which even did not show any inclination to investigate atrocities against suffering families, the same judiciary is handling out verdict after verdict on a single (water) issue on the basis of writ petitions by Haryana government.
The fundamental point is that the water right is a state subject according to Indian constitution. It may be recalled that the central government even knowing this fact arbitrarily convened an inter-state meeting of three states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan in 1955 and got ratified pre-arranged decision on river waters. It is a different issue that water requirements of Punjab were assessed as 7.2maf (5.9maf for Punjab and 1.3maf for PEPSU) at that time. Though, unutilized water was available with Punjab, but it was not in any way surplus. It was under-utilisation owing only to absence of irrigational projects.
The basic question was/is, however, according to constitutional provisions that who has the right to decide over river waters and to allot it to neighbouring/needy states? Obviously, it was the jurisdiction of Punjab state. But the Nehru government appropriated the decision-making powers and arbitrarily divided the waters of Punjab. It ensured formal approval by convening an inter-state meeting. And this is being touted as formal settlement to impose discriminatory decisions and strengthen illegitimate claims of Haryana as well as Rajasthan.
Further, the union government forcibly appropriated property rights over river waters and hydropower projects, while the same central rulers, allowed Haryana to solely control the Yamuna water, Tajewala Works over Yamuna river, Okhla dam over Ghagar river and other irrigational projects. Hence, the central government has been adopting self-contradictory approaches towards these two states on the similar issue, which reflects its prejudiced and discriminatory mind-set.
Thus, Haryana is not entitled to get share from waters of Ravi-Beas, neither according to constitutional provisions nor internationally accepted/established principles of water sharing. But, the union government decreed on 24 March 1976, for division of Ravi-Beas water (7.0maf) between Punjab and Haryana on equitable basis. It also added that in case quantity of water declines from 7.0maf due to natural vagaries, the loss shall be borne by Punjab; and Haryana shall continue to get it uninterrupted share of 3.5maf.
The central rulers could not complete the SYL during the height of Khalistan movement. Their repeated efforts were thwarted. After the formation of congress government in Punjab in 1992, the frantic efforts of Haryana rulers again started for completion of the SYL, which resulted in series of writ petitions in the Supreme Court. Haryana government filed a petition in the apex court for implementation of all the above-cited pro-Haryana decrees. Punjab and central government filed their respective affidavits in March 1997.
The Supreme Court had directed Punjab government on 27 January 2001 to submit its written reply in response to Haryana’s petition within six months. Punjab submitted its reply on 19 April 2001. After hearing the case the Supreme Court reserved its verdict pending and gave three months’ time to both the parties to reach an agreement. Then, on 15 January 2002, the Supreme Court ordered Punjab to complete the SYL within six months, failing, which the central government had to finish the task. The Punjab government filed an appeal for review, which was rejected by the Court on 4 June 2004 with directions to the central government to assign this work to the central agency. Accordingly. The central government entrusted the CPWD the task to complete the SYL canal.
On 2 July 2004, the Punjab government again filed a special leave petition for review of its June 4, verdict. Amarinder government argued that no discussion was allowed on Punjab’s petition and the verdict was handed out on the basis of petition of Haryana only. The Punjab state also contended that this issue was not within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, as it was a water dispute in the ambit of article 262 of the constitution. Therefore, the river water dispute is the sole jurisdiction of a tribunal. Punjab also argued that the permission for completion of SYL was untenable, because resolution of water dispute by the tribunal was only one issue of the ‘Punjab Accord’ while other nine issues were even not touched upon. Then, why only one point (SYL) of the accord is being stressed? Ultimately, the Punjab was forced to unilaterally abrogate all previous accords by passing an act “ Punjab Termination of Agreement Act-2004” in Punjab Legislative Assembly, on 12 July 2004.
Failing in getting the SYL functional, the Haryana government started a new irrigation scheme named Hansi-Butana canal project. It is interesting to note that neither it got sanction from the Central Water Commission nor clearance from the Union Environment and Forest ministry, which is mandatory under the laws. Even more disgusting fact is that the CWC has not cleared the Dashmesh Canal Project of Punjab, envisaged by the earlier Akali government of Mr.Parkash Singh Badal during 1997-2002, to irrigate parched lands of Ropar, Fatehgarh Sahib and Patiala districts of Punjab. Mr. Badal has rightly lambasted the CWC for its “duplicity and double standard on Hansi-Butana canal project.” The CWC had taken a position that concurrence of Haryana and Rajasthan was mandatory under article 13 of Bhakra Nangal agreement of 1959. But the same CWC has no inhibition to grant permission to Haryana, while the two other parties-Punjab and Rajasthan are battling in courts to stall this project. It is pertinent that command areas of Hansi-Butana canal project were not identified in the Bhakhra Nangal Agreement of 1959.
Hansi-Butana canal project if made functional shall not only encroach upon water share of Punjab and Rajasthan, but also adversely affect ecology of Punjab. This channel shall run from west to east along Punjab-Haryana border and draw water from Bhakhra Main Line by perforating it near Samana town in Patiala district of Punjab. Its embankment will be more than ten feet high for first 11km, which then taper down to seven feet for next 9km distance. It would block smooth flowing of confluence waters of Ghagar, Markanda and Tangri rivers; and rainy water of Patiala ki Nadi. This would result submergence of 20,756 acres of land of 32 villages of Punjab and cause temporary displacement of over 0.1 million people every year.
The political system of India has degenerated to its lowest point and has become anti people, that no hope of justice is expected through legal proceedings. The ruling elites of any state are egging on burning issues only for their political ends. All parliamentary parties of any shade and flag have no concern with the toiling masses. Water dispute of Punjab and Haryana can be solved amicably by adhering to internationally accepted norms. But from the past practice of sixty years, one can easily presume that the ruling classes shall keep the pot boiling whether it is Cauvery, Narmada or Sutlej, Ravi and Beas. Democratic people should unmask the true faces of Indian ruling elite and strive to build strong mass movements that can bend the rulers to their kneels.