The Punjab Council of Ministers led by the Punjab Chief Minister Mr. Parkash Singh Badal and Deputy Chief Minister Mr. Sukhbir Singh Badal today submitted a memorandum to the President of India Mr. Pranab Mukherjee here at Rashtrapati Bhawan urging to apprise him holistically on Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) canal issue and not to accept any advice that militates against the basic Riparian principle relevant to the distribution of river water.
The high level delegation apprised Mr. Mukherjee that acceptance of such an advice would irretrievably prejudice the dictates of justice and fair play. The delegation urged the President that nothing should be done to deprive the people of Punjab of their legitimate rights with regard to waters of rivers of the state in violation of the universally accepted Riparian Principle. Any advice or decision which violates the Riparian principle would run against the dictates of constitutional framework of the country. It may please be kept in view that all inter-state river water disputes in the country have been resolved only and strictly in accordance with this principle, the delegation further requested.
Seeking justice from President of India as the custodian of the constitution which fully respects the Riparian principle, the delegation impressed upon Mr. Mukherjee to keep in view that the Punjab government has already filed a petition in the honourable Supreme Court challenging Section 78-79 of the Punjab Reorganization Act 1966 and seeking a decision on the river waters in accordance with the nationally and internationally accepted Riparian Principle. “Punjab seeks nothing beyond justice within the constitutional framework of the country. Your good self is requested to consider all the aforesaid aspects to safeguard the interests of the people of the State of Punjab. At stake is future of the brave, patriotic and peace loving people of the border state of Punjab”, asserted the delegation.
The delegation also informed the President that a highly volatile situation has arisen in the State of Punjab following the opinion of the Hon’ble Supreme Court upon the Presidential Reference on this issue. This has given rise to extreme public reaction and severe unrest and anger amongst the residents including the farmers arising out of. The opinion of the Hon’ble Supreme Court has further caused immense stir and fear of sustained losses on all socio-economic parameters amongst the people of the State of Punjab who have consistently faced the challenges of partition, the brunt of the wars with Pakistan and the period of social unrest. The State has been constantly making endeavors to meet the challenges of water scarcity, depleting water table and lack of availability of potable water. The new development has delivered a big blow to the residents of the State as they reel under the fear of non-availability of sufficient water resource.
Seeking kind attention of President on the issue of injustice being done to the state of Punjab on the issue of waters of its rivers, the delegation apprised the President about the availability of waters in the rivers that pass through Punjab, the rights of ownership on that water on the basis of the nationally and internationally accepted Riparian principle and regarding the opinion given by the Hon'ble Supreme Court in response to the Presidential Reference in Special Reference 1 of 2004 and whether or not it answers squarely the questions asked in the reference.
The delegation brought into the notice of the President that the very reference by the Government of India to Hon'ble President of India for legal opinion of Hon'ble Supreme Court of India related to a piece of legislation duly passed by the Legislative Assembly of Punjab in the year 2004 and assented to by the Hon'ble Governor of the State in the same month. The unprecedented decision of the Government of India to submit this legislation to the President of India for reference to the Supreme Court was clearly an act of unfair play. It may be noted that no state which claimed to have a stake in the matter, like Haryana and Rajasthan, challenged the Punjab Act in the honorable Supreme Court.
The delegation apprised that as a result of the injustice done to Punjab in the past, the state passed through an extremely difficult phase for a period of more than one decade in eighties. The principal reason for that was the unfair deal handed to Punjab with regard to the distribution of River waters. It is a well known fact that today Punjab has no surplus water and digging of Satluj Yamuna Link canal without determining whether any water is available or not for passing through it is patently unjust. Unreasonable insistence on the digging of this canal without first determining the rights of the states on the basis of Riparian principle has led to understandable sense of injustice and alienation among the people of Punjab in the past. A continued persistence on that course is bound to disturb the hard earned peace in this border state of Punjab.
The delegation informed the President that Punjab is predominantly an agrarian society whose people are mainly dependent upon agriculture for their sustenance. Thus water is its life line In spite of its small size it is the largest contributor to the national food basket. Indeed, barring the waters of the three rivers, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej, it has no other natural resources, and even these waters are being substantially diverted to the use of the non-riparian states of Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi. The irrigation needs of the Punjab have increased and availability of water has decreased.
The memorandum further reads that as per universally accepted riparian and federal principles, river waters are the property of the riparian States. The Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan was concluded in 1960 to distribute river waters. Three rivers, namely Ravi flowing into the states of Himachal Pradesh (H.P,) Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and Punjab, River Beas flowing in the states H.P. & Punjab, and River Sutlej flowing into the states of H.P & Punjab were allocated to India for its unrestricted utilization. However, in the internal distribution of the Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej waters in India, political considerations rather than merit became the deciding factor.
The series of political agreements or understandings which have no constitutional sanctity ended up in giving on a platter more than 50% of Ravi and Beas water to the non-riparian States of Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi. This huge allocation of water to non-riparian States sidelining the legitimate needs and requirement of the riparian States particularly the Punjab - granary of India and a border state was a historic blunder.
After forcing the Riparian State of Punjab to part with its river waters, the non- riparian states of Haryana, with the help of favourable, political establishment at the Centre, thrust upon Punjab the decision to part with its land for construction of SYL Canal in a length of 122 Kms. Non-riparian State getting water at the expense of a riparian State has no parallel either in India or elsewhere in the world. The entire scheme is wholly contrary to the governing riparian principle or morality.
The interest of State of Punjab has been compromised with each order, agreement and settlement etc. In 1955, the Government of India went beyond its constitutional brief in allocating 8.00 MAF of water, which is more than 50% of the surplus water of Ravi and Beas to the non-Riparian state of Rajasthan. Under the Later, in 1976, the Government of India headed by Mrs. Indira Gandhi unilaterally and arbitrarily gave away more than 50% of the remaining water of Ravi and Beas rivers, the Riparian state of Punjab to the non-Riparian states of Haryana and Delhi. In 1981, the then Prime Minister of India, Mrs Indira Gandhi foisted another politically manufactured agreement between the states of Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana. Even the Rajiv Longowal Accord, which was not an accord having legal legitimacy to foist an obligation on the State of Punjab, has been implemented in a truncated manner. Only clause which has been sought to be implemented is clause 9 of the Accord pertaining to sharing of river waters to the exclusion of all other clauses almost numbering 11.
A significant and unassailable fact is that glaciers have either melted or rapidly melting and availability of surplus Ravi Beas water has gone down from 17.17 MAF of water to 13.38 MAF as per official flow series of 1921-60 and 1981 – 2013, respectively, maintained by BBMB, a statutory body functioning under the Ministry of Power, Government of India. It is pertinent to mention that 110 out of 135 of Punjab's blocks have turned "dark" – meaning an alarming crisis of underground water availability. Out of these, 45 blocks have been declared "critical" by the Central Groundwater Board. No further water can be drawn from sub surface resource in these 45 blocks. At present, Canal water caters to only 27% of the total irrigation requirements of the state.
There is an urgent need to determine the availability of water to cater to the needs of State of Punjab. The experts are of unequivocal opinion that Punjab is a water deficient State and requires far more river water than its present utilization.
Further, Punjab has sole constitutional proprietary rights over the waters of its rivers. The opinion given in response to the Presidential Reference in Special Reference 1 of 2004 does not answer squarely the questions asked and heavily relies upon the case of State of Tamil Nadu Vs. State of Kerala and Ors (2014) 12 SCC 696 which on facts is distinguishable. The advisory opinion is admittedly not binding although it merits highest respect since it is being given by Hon’ble Supreme Court.
The Union of India, in the past has not played its expected role and has even been strongly criticized by Hon’ble Supreme court in its judgment reported in (2002) 2 SCC 507, para 13 page 529 State of Haryana Vs. State of Punjab and Other.
It is significant to note that whereas Haryana a non-riparian state, demands water from Ravi Beas but denies Yamuna water to Punjab on the ground that Punjab is non riparian to river Yamuna. The State of Haryana is also earmarked to get water from Sarda Yamuna Link. Storage being created on river Yamuna at higher reaches would ensure continuous water flow to Haryana.
The very nature of river water flows in a country with Federal system require decrees or orders passed by adjudicating authorities to be addressed in a non legalistic manner. The US Supreme Court (Colorado v/s Kansas 320 US 383 @ 392) had cautioned way back in 1943 that water allocations “necessitates expert administration rather than judicial imposition of hard and fast rule“.
The resilience and the fight back by the people of Punjab have brought Punjab back from the brink of disaster in eighties and nineties. The triggering event which embroiled the entire country for more than a decade was construction of SYL canal. As there is not a single drop of water to spare from Punjab's river waters, the construction of canal to carry the supposed water is neither advisable nor even possible. The Punjab Vidhan Sabha has unanimously resolved that as there is not a single drop of water to spare, the SYL canal is neither feasible nor practicable nor should it be foisted on Punjab nor can any government in the state agree to any unconstitutional effort to loot the state of its river waters through the construction of such a canal.
Accordingly, Punjab Council of Ministers has de-notified the acquisition of the land which had earlier been acquired for the unjust purpose of constructing the SYL.
The delegation comprised Cabinet Ministers Mr. Adesh Partap Singh Kairon, Mr. Madan Mohan Mittal, Jathedar Tota Singh, Mr. Parminder Singh Dhindsa, Mr. Sohan Singh Thandal, Mr. Janmeja Singh Sekhon, Dr. Daljeet Singh Cheema, Mr. Anil Joshi, Mr. Surjit Singh Rakhra and Mr. Sharanjit Singh Dhillon.