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Last Updated : Jul 12, 2019 05:53 PM IST | Source:

Why Punjab is refusing to share its water with Haryana: A look at the history of the dispute

The apex court has stated that the two states and the central government need to solve the issue amicably through dialogue.

Atharva Pandit @AtharvaPandit3

The Supreme Court on July 9 directed the states of Punjab and Haryana to sort out the issue of Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal with the Centre's help by September 3, when the next hearing on the matter would commence.

However, according to a report by The Indian Express, Punjab, already facing water shortage, is unwilling to share water with its neighbouring state. The report states that Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh is preparing to reiterate its stance of not sharing the water.

Before delving into the recent developments and their ramifications for both the states, here's a brief history of the dispute between the two states.


What is the controversy surrounding the SYL Canal?

The state of Haryana was carved out of Punjab in 1966, after which the issue of water-sharing between the two states became a bone of contention. This was despite the fact that in 1955, the central government had divided the flow of water from Ravi and Beas between Rajasthan, undivided Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

According to a report by Indian Express, while Rajasthan was allotted 8 million acre feet (MAF) of water, undivided Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir got 7.20 MAF and 0.65 MAF respectively. In 1976, the Centre decided that out of Punjab's share, 3.5 MAF should go to Haryana.

Even as Punjab continued to protest against the decision, a canal linking Sutlej with Yamuna was planned. In 1981, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had brokered a deal between Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan (all three had Congress Chief Ministers then) according to which the three states were allocated 4.22 MAF, 3.5 MAF and 8.6 MAF respectively.

In 1982, Gandhi had dug the ground in Patiala district— signalling the start of the construction of the canal.

Why was construction stopped? 

For starters, the Shiromani Akali Dal was opposed to the entire idea, and they launched a movement called Kapoori Morcha to oppose the construction.

While an accord was signed between Rajiv Gandhi and the Akali Dal in 1985 to let a tribunal verify the claims of both Punjab and Haryana, the tribunal's recommendations— to increase shares of Punjab and Haryana to five MAF and 3.83 MAF respectively— were not followed. This was because while many of the Akali Dal leaders were opposed to the deal, the state was also reeling through militancy.

Moreover, even when the construction was going on, violent protests continued against the building of the canal. Officials working on the project were killed, allegedly by militants opposing the project, and eventually, Punjab stopped the work.

What happened then? 

Eventually, Haryana, having tried to push for the construction work to be handed over to a central agency, moved the Supreme Court. The SC directed Punjab to complete the work in 2002 and 2004. But in 2004, the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act was passed in the state assembly, making the water-sharing agreement invalid.

In 2016, the SC had deemed the law as 'unconstitutional', directing the Centre to hand over the reins of the construction work to a central agency.

In response, the Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state had denotified the land taken for the construction of the canal, to be vested with its original owners. Haryana consequently moved SC, which had then stayed the Punjab government's proceedings.

What is happening now?

In 2017, Haryana had moved the SC seeking an early solution to the dispute, and the apex court had asked Punjab to build the canal before the states can have a dialogue over it.

The apex court on July 9 stated that the two states and the central government need to solve the issue amicably through dialogue by September 3.

Capt Amarinder Singh, who was the Chief Minister in 2004 as well, favours talking the issue out, but has consistently stated that the state does not have additional water to share with Haryana.

According to reports, with Punjab facing depletion of underground water to meet its agricultural requirement, the state government is planning to present its case before the Centre and Haryana.

The options before the Haryana government are limited, considering that is gearing up for an election in the coming months, and cannot afford to anger its agrarian voters.

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First Published on Jul 12, 2019 11:34 am
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