This Article is From Sep 06, 2022

Punjab Not Cooperating In Resolving Sutlej-Yamuna Canal Dispute: Centre

The Supreme Court, which observed that water is a natural resource, said the parties have to have a "broader outlook".

Punjab Not Cooperating In Resolving Sutlej-Yamuna Canal Dispute: Centre

The counsel said the state government is very keen to resolve the issue amicably.

New Delhi:

The Centre on Tuesday told the Supreme Court the Punjab government is "not cooperating" in resolving the decades-old Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal dispute between the state and Haryana.

The top court, which observed that water is a natural resource and living beings must learn to share it, said the parties have to have a "broader outlook" and realise the ramifications and necessity of a negotiated settlement, more so in view of security concerns, apparently referring to the occasional violence over the project.

The counsel for Punjab told a bench headed by Justice S K Kaul that the state government is very keen to resolve the issue amicably.

At the outset, Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, told the bench that the top court had in 2017 said that matter should be amicably settled and the Union of India, through the Water Resources Ministry, has been trying to bring together states of Haryana and Punjab for the purpose of an amicable settlement.

"Unfortunately, Punjab has not been cooperating," the top law officer said, adding that letters were sent in 2020 and 2021 to the then Punjab chief minister who did not respond at all.

Though official-level talks have been going on between the two states on the SYL issue, the Centre has been insisting on meetings between the two chief ministers.

He said a letter was sent in April this year when the new chief minister took over in Punjab but he has not responded till date.

"It is essential that so far as Punjab is concerned, it has to cooperate. It cannot refrain from coming to the discussion table," Mr Venugopal told the bench, also comprising Justices A S Oka and Vikram Nath.

He said the bench may direct the Punjab counsel to ensure the chief minister participated in the discussions on the issue with his Haryana counterpart.

Responding to the suggestion, the bench said sometimes the final solution lies a little beyond the courts.

"But then either the court proceeds to take a hard stand or the parties cooperate. So, I am hoping that the concerned stake holders realise that abstention from discussion is not the way forward," Justice Kaul said.

When the counsel representing Punjab said they are very keen to resolve the issue amicably, the bench quipped, "That keenness must reflect (in action)." "Attorney General rightly points out that chief ministers of Punjab and Haryana were and are required to meet and it is agreed before us by the counsel present that such a meeting will be held within this month itself....," the bench said.

The counsel appearing for Rajasthan told the bench that they want to participate in the process but are not allowed despite the orders of the supreme court.

Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for Haryana, said Rajasthan was not a party to the decree passed by the top court in the matter.

The water dispute started in 1966, when the Punjab Reorganisation Act divided the erstwhile Punjab into Punjab and Haryana and the need arose to share river water between the two states.

Punjab, however, opposed sharing the water of Ravi and Beas rivers with Haryana, citing the Riparian Principle, which states that the owner of land adjacent to a waterbody has the right to use the water. It also argued it had no water to spare.

Mr Venugopal suggested the court may give the states four months and, during this period, at the end of the first month, the two chief ministers will meet.

The bench noted in its order that a letter dated September 5, 2022, addressed by the secretary of the Ministry of Jal Shakti to the Attorney General, has been placed before the court.

It noted that Venugopal has informed the court that despite various endeavours, Punjab did not join the negotiating table.

"The endeavour of this court has been to arrive at a mediated settlement. That should not be taken as a licence for an infinite period of time to elapse," the bench observed.

The top court said it expects the Ministry of Jal Shakti as well as the states of Punjab and Haryana and also the state of Rajasthan to lend full cooperation in resolving the issue.

The bench granted four months to the Centre to submit a progress report.

"Water is a natural resource and living beings must learn to share it, whether it be individuals, states or countries," it observed and posted the matter for hearing on January 19 next year.

The bench said it understands these are sensitive issues for the states but some call has to be taken to resolve them.

In 2017, the top court had said that decrees passed in the SYL canal dispute between Punjab and Haryana cannot be flouted.

The controversial 1981 water-sharing agreement came into being after Haryana was carved out of Punjab in 1966.

For effective allocation of water, SYL canal link was conceptualised. A stretch of 214 km SYL was set to be built, of which 122 km were to be in Punjab and 92 km in Haryana.

In 2004, the then Congress government of 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 top 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 challenged the verdict by filing a suit which was rejected in 2004 by the Supreme Court.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)