Real Cause of Punjab Crisis
– Not Agrarian Alone –
There is no doubt that the condition of Punjab is critical, and it will worsen in the coming days. The problem needs to be properly analysed. The Punjab government is under a debt of more than 1,22,000 crore rupees (including the debt of 49832 crore rupees incurred by The Punjab Electricity Board and other corporations). The Punjab farmers are reeling under loans of 35000 crores of rupees. For many of them suicide is the only way out of their plight. Many others are dying of cancer and other diseases. Young men and women, for want of proper employment, are ruining themselves and their families by getting addicted to intoxicants, or are fleeing to foreign countries where only misery awaits them. Punjab’s bill of salaries and pensions amounts to 18242 crore rupees which is 70% of the total income of the government. The real cause of the ruin of Punjab needs to be pinpointed.
Green Revolution. One big factor responsible for the misery of Punjab is the so-called green revolution which started in 1960s. It was really a cruel fraud played upon the farmers of Punjab. India was facing serious food shortage. The government, the agricultural experts and the big trading companies prompted the Punjab farmers to produce maximum grains in their fields. Banks and other agencies showered loans on them. Punjab has 4 lakh tractors. If the cost of one tractor, including implements, is assessed at a minimum of Rs. five lakhs, the cost of these tractors amounts to 20000 crore rupees. In 2009 Punjab provided 140 lakh tons of rice and 100 lakh tons of wheat to the Centre. But what did the Punjab farmers gain out of this? If the costs of seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, diesel, electricity, rent of the land, wear and tear of machinery, interest incurred on agricultural loans and labour are taken into account, (according to a memorandum submitted to the Prime Minister by Bhartiya Kisan Union in April 2011) the production of one quintal of wheat costs the farmer Rs. 2434 and the production cost of one quintal of rice amounts to Rs. 2295. According to the prices fixed by the Centre, the farmers got about Rs. 1120 for one quintal of wheat and Rs. 1050 for one quintal of rice. Somebody may argue: If dividends are really so negative, why do the farmers continue with this work? The farmers are in fact helpless. If they do not extract the maximum from their land by using all their means and energy, the noose of debt tightens around their necks. They also have to provide bread to their families. The real gainers are the Centre and the companies which sell fertilizers, pesticides, diesel and other such things. The condition of farmers is really that of slaves. In olden times the invaders took away people as captives and forced them to do hard work. But these days slavery has assumed a new form. Today the farmers of Punjab are bound by the invisible chains of debt, and their men, women and children have to toil day and night. The peculiarity of this type of slavery is that slaves do not know that they are slaves. And the condition of the Punjab farmers is deteriorating day by day. There is no hope from any quarter. The Centre sanctioned large funds in the 2009-10 budget (Rs. 72000 crores) to provide relief to farmers; but Punjab received a paltry 1.3 % of that money. Policies are framed in such a way that Punjab benefits the least from them. Out of the total revenue collected by the Centre from this state only 1.39 % is returned to it.
23 % of land in Punjab is irrigated by canals. 73 % is irrigated by tubewells. There are more than 14 lakh tubewells in the state; one third of which run on diesel. Farmers have spent billions of rupees on installing these water-extractors. Rs.5000 crore worth of electricity was consumed by tube wells during 2011 (farmers got this power free of charge; but the state had to foot the bill). Besides this, an almost equal amount was spent by the farmers on diesel for running tube wells. According to an estimate, Punjab has so far spent 80000 crore rupees on extracting ground water. (Compared with canal irrigation, irrigation by electricity operated tube wells is 3-4 times more costly, and that by diesel-operated tube wells is 10-12 times more expensive). In order to get maximum produce, the farmers use excessive quantities of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. The quantity of fertilizers used in Punjab is 3 to 4 times the quantity used per acre in Canada. Punjab consumes one quarter of the total insecticides and pesticides used in the country. It has poisoned soil, ground water and crops. In this way, Punjab produces 20 % of the total wheat and 12 % of the total rice of the country. And its contribution constitutes 60-70 % of wheat and 40-45 % of rice of the central pool. Punjab has only 1.53 % of land of India. This overuse of land and subsoil water is like tearing open the womb of the goose which laid golden eggs.
The water under the ground for over thousands of years is being extracted most recklessly. Now, as the upper layer of water has been exhausted, submersible pumps are being sunk which suck water from the depth of 7-8 hundred feet. One submersible pump costs more than two lakh rupees. During the last few years the farmers have incurred loans of billions of rupees for this purpose. Now things have come to a pass where hand pumps in many areas have gone dry and people have to install submersible pumps for drinking water. The subsoil water in almost half of the Punjab is saline and not fit for irrigation. Its long time use is bound to render the soil saline and infertile. There is another dangerous aspect of the tube well irrigation. The extraction (34 billion cubic meters in a year) is much higher than the recharge. So, there is real danger of Punjab turning soon into a semi-desert. Moreover the water drawn from deeper levels contains heavy metals like arsenic, mercury and uranium which are causing deadly diseases.
Loot of Punjab during the time of militancy: Punjab was number one state in India in 1981; its per capita income was double the national per capita income. In 1982 the Akalis started a ‘Morcha’ (campaign) to stop the construction of the Satluj-Yamuna Link (S.Y.L.) canal meant for carrying the Punjab water to Haryana. Owing to the atrocities committed by the government, the ‘Morcha’ took a secessionist turn. In order to crush secessionism, the Centre permitted the police and security forces to loot and kill the Sikhs freely. Punjab became a hunting ground. Policemen of other provinces saw greener pastures in Punjab and sought deputation to the state. The police and other forces robbed and killed the Sikhs most ruthlessly for ten years. They would pick up Sikh young men and ask their parents to pay huge amount as ransom, otherwise they would be tortured and killed. The hapless parents raised money by incurring loans or selling their lands. Similarly, they had to pay large amounts to save the honour of their women. In this way billions upon billions of rupees were extorted; gains must have been shared with those in control at the Centre. This consistent and prolonged plunder would shame the lootings of Abdali and Nadir Shah. Besides, the Centre imposed Rs.5800 crore on Punjab as charges of the central forces for eliminating about 40 thousand “terrorist” Sikhs. It is significant that armed forces have been used by the Centre in Jammu and Kashmir and in the north-eastern states since 1958 for the same purpose, and now they are being employed in Bengal and Chhatisgarh, but no such levy has been imposed on any of these states. Moreover, Punjab had never sought deployment of armed forces, nor was it ever consulted about it. Punjab could have recovered from this horrible blow, as it had recovered from the immense losses it suffered during 1947. But, in spite of all their grit and toil, the condition of the people of Punjab continued to worsen. The question as to why all this was done stares us in the face?
Loot of Punjab waters: The root cause of the deepening crisis of Punjab is the plunder of its river waters. It is nothing short of cutting the jugular vein of Punjab. 70 % of Punjab’s population lives on agriculture. Almost all the farmers are Sikhs. Formerly a good number of them joined the army; but now even that avenue has been practically closed upon them. They survive by cultivating their small holdings intensively, for which canal irrigation is most necessary. There being no other natural resources, the river waters are lifeline for Punjab.
The issue of the distribution of the waters of the Punjab rivers, as it stands now, is hopelessly complicated; best brains have been employed to distort and confuse it. However, there are some broad facts which can be helpful for a lay man to understand the problem.
The river waters are governed, on the national and international levels, by the riparian principle. According to it, if a river lies wholly within the territory of one state, it entirely belongs to that state and no other state has any right in it. And where a river flows through more than one state, each state owns that part of the river which runs through its territory. There can be disputes about river waters only between riparian states and not between a riparian state and a non-riparian state. Under international law, river and river waters which flow on land are an essential part of the land or territory of a state, which has absolute rights therein, because territory constitutes an integral attribute of a state. The fundamental principle and rationale underlying the riparian law is that the inhabitants in the basin of a river have suffered, for centuries, the losses of land, property, cattle and human life from the ravages of the river. Therefore they alone are entitled to the benefits of the river in question. For example, in the 1988 floods alone, Punjab suffered a loss of hundreds of lives besides the loss of property estimated officially at one billion dollars; while Rajasthan, Haryana or Delhi has never lost anything due to the floods of the Punjab rivers.
The riparian law is embodied in the Indian constitution. As per entry 17 of List-ii under Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, river waters are a state subject, and only a state has the right to control and use the waters of its rivers. According to the Helsinki Rules, 1966, adopted by the International Law Association, which India has signed, “the rivers belong to the state through which they pass”. The river waters and hydroelectric power being an exclusively state subject, the Centre has no control over them. However, there is a provision for adjudication of disputes relating to river waters of interstate rivers or river valleys:
i) Parliament may by law provide for the adjudication of any dispute or complaint with respect to the use, distribution or control of the waters of, or in, any interstate river or river valley.
ii) Notwithstanding anything in the constitution Parliament may by law provide that neither the Supreme Court nor any other court shall exercise jurisdiction in respect of any such dispute or complaint as is referred to in clause (I).
Under this clause the Centre has enacted several pieces of legislation, and thus assumed powers to set up boards and tribunals to adjudicate disputes and complaints about interstate rivers. But the riparian right has not been negated. The important point is that the tribunals constituted under this law can adjudicate only about disputes in respect of interstate rivers (i.e. between co-riparian states) and not disputes between the riparian and the non-riparian states.
A case in point is the claim of Rajasthan on the waters of the Narmada river. The Narmada flows through the territories of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat, but not through Rajasthan. Rajasthan made a petition for a share from the waters of the river. The tribunal court consisting of a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, ruled:
“i) Rajasthan being a non-riparian state in regard to Narmada, cannot apply to the Tribunal, because under the act only a co-riparian state can do so; and (ii) the state of Rajasthan is not entitled to any portion of the waters of Narmada basin on the ground that the state of Rajasthan is not a co-riparian state, or that no portion of its territory is situated in the basin of River Narmada.”
On Rajasthan’s plea that it should get water of the Narmada because it was getting water from the Punjab rivers although it was non-riparian to these rivers, the judge remarked:
“Utilization of Ravi and Beas: The apportionment of water was the result of an agreement. It appears from Rajasthan documents Volume VI at pages 26 and 30 that Punjab was prepared to satisfy the needs of Rajasthan, provided its needs as a riparian state were first satisfied.”
When Pakistan was formed in 1947, the Indian Punjab and the Pakistan Punjab became co-riparian states in respect of the Punjab rivers. A few months after the Partition, India and Pakistan signed a “stand still agreement” which provided for maintaining the water supplies at the level of appropriation/ allocation at the time of Partition. However, a dispute arose between the two countries and the war broke out between two countries. The World Bank offered its “good offices” to bring about an agreement between the contesting neighbors. Both the countries accepted the offer and negotiations started under the aegis of the World Bank. These continued by fits and starts for many years. At one stage (in 1954), India, at the suggestion of one Mr. N. D. Gulati, who presented the Indian case before the Indus Waters Commission, devised a ploy to heighten its claim vis-a-vis Pakistan. It was argued before the commission that 8 M.A.F. waters of the Punjab rivers would be used for irrigation in Rajasthan after fulfilling the needs of East Punjab. However, Pakistan did not insist on its share in the three eastern rivers namely the Satluj, the Beas, and the Ravi. It had more than enough water in the Chenab, the Jhelum and the mighty Indus. (The Indus did not flow in Punjab, but Punjab fell in its basin. The other five rivers joined the Indus before falling into the Arabian Sea). Pakistan decided to divert the waters of these three western rivers to the area fed by the Satluj, the Beas and the Ravi, rather than allow its agriculture to be at the tender mercies of its upper riparian neighbour, the relations between the two countries being hostile. Indus Basin Rivers Waters Treaty was signed in 1960 by Nehru and Ayub Khan, according to which the total waters of the Satluj, the Beas and the Ravi were allotted to Indian Punjab, and the other two rivers (and the Indus) went wholly to its western counterpart. For diverting its waters Pakistan was given aid by the World Bank and some friendly countries. India also made some contribution. In the controversy over the Punjab waters distribution, the opponents of the Punjab (including Comrade Sat Pal Dang) developed the argument that, since the Centre had “purchased” water from Pakistan, it could hand it over to any state.
At the time of Partition, the Satluj, the Beas and the Ravi had 32.5 M.A.F. of water. Nine M.A.F. of it was being consumed in the areas which later constituted the Punjabi Suba. One M.A.F. was going to the erstwhile state of Bikaner under an agreement signed by Bikaner, Bahawalpur and the British Punjab in 1920. Bikaner was getting this water against payment because it was not a riparian state. The royalty was received by the government of Punjab and not by the Central government, because waters belonged to the state and not to the Centre. The areas which later formed Haryana were not getting any water of the Punjab rivers. The rest of the water of these rivers was either used in the West Punjab (now in Pakistan) or flowed into the sea. Apart from these waters, Punjab was receiving 5.6 M.A.F. of water from the Yamuna, because a part of the Punjab (now Haryana) fell in its basin.
The ploy which was devised to outfox Pakistan came to be used against Punjab. In 1955 the Centre allotted 8 M.A.F. of water to Rajasthan. The order was passed at a meeting chaired by Gulzari Lal Nanda who was Irrigation and Power Minister in the Nehru cabinet at that time. Later the Centre gave it the shape of an “agreement” by putting pressure on Punjab. It was written in this decision that the cost of this water would be worked out separately. (Sardar Pritam Singh Kumedan has dug out this fact.) The file was marked as “secret” so that its contents were not made public lest there should be protest against it. Rajasthan had in fact never made a demand for the Punjab waters. When the Centre asked it to make a survey for the proposed Rajasthan Canal, it refused to do so because it thought it would be a useless expenditure as it had no hope to get this water. Then the Centre itself made the survey and built the canal. In fact, the Centre had conceived this villainy against Punjab as early as 1948. It got a head-regulator built in the Harike headworks in 1952 for the Rajasthan Canal with a capacity of 18500 cusecs, although the construction of this canal commenced six years later.
It was clear to all right- thinking men and some of them had even sounded a warning, that it would be extremely unprofitable to carry such huge quantities of water into desert. It seems that the intention of the Centre primarily was to rob Punjab of its only natural resource. Gulzari Lal Nanda was the chief character in this fiendish game, he was an assistant of Nehru and was fulfilling his will. In fact this inimical attitude towards Punjab is not limited to Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi or other individuals. It is rather a permanent mindset which is constantly at work at all levels.
The Project of Rajasthan Canal, with a feeder 292 miles long (the total length upto the tail end is 426 miles), was hurriedly undertaken. The necessary studies to determine its feasibility were not made. No well-meaning government could have undertaken such a big project with so little thought. In 1958, when the project was in progress, the Indian government invited a team of U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to examine the project. The team said in its report, “In order to make a comprehensive study of a project calling for the irrigation of 4.5 million acres of land, it would be necessary for the Bureau of Reclamation to devote years of time making land classification, agricultural economics and settlement studies. The team is of the opinion that further investigations would have been highly desirable prior to initiation of construction.”
Alloys A. Michael, an international authority on river waters, states in “The Indus River — A Study of the Effects of Partition”:
“Viewed realistically the Rajasthan Project in its ultimate form is a dubious one. The idea of extending the Rajasthan Canal parallel to Indo-Pakistan border in the northern portion of the Thar Desert down to a point about opposite Sukkur Barrage was a seductive one: 7.9 million acres could be brought under command and 6.7 million of these are potentially cultivable although the project in its present form is limited to supplying water to only 4.5 million acres, of which only 3.5 million would be cultivated in a given year. Assured by her geographical position and later by the treaty of the full use of the Eastern Rivers, India naturally sought an area to irrigate. Forgotten or overlooked were the fundamental differences between the Punjab, with its convergent streams, tapering doabs and silty soil, and the Thar Desert, hundreds of miles from the Sutlej, with its sand and sand dunes. The cumulative irrigation experience in India, Egypt, the U.S. and the Soviet Union indicates that more food and fibre can be obtained by increasing the water allowance to existing cultivated lands than by spreading water thin over new tracts. But to introduce it into the Thar Desert is economically unjustifiable. The 8.8 M.A.F. of Beas-Sutlej-Ravi waters that are to be diverted from Harike for the Rajasthan Canal could be put to much better use in the East Punjab, north and south of the Sutlej and in the eastern margins of Rajasthan served by the Bikaner Canal and the Sirhind Feeder. Combined with the concentrated application of the limited fertilizers at India’s disposal, yields in the established areas could be doubled or trebled at a saving in cost and pain in Rajasthan. The very experience with the Bhakra project itself, which increased water supplies to 3.3 million acres south of the Sutlej, demonstrates this. Yet even here, out of every 182 cusecs run into the canal, 112 are lost by seepage, evaporation and non beneficial transpiration of plants. (Bracketed note mine: The Bhakra Canal irrigates 16 lakh acres in Haryana, 9 lakh acres in Rajasthan and only 11 lakh acres in the Punjab.) In the Rajasthan Canal, although the lining will reduce seepage in the main canal to a minimum, evaporation alone might reduce supplies by 50 per cent. And the seepage losses in the unlined branch canals, distributaries, minors, sub-minors, water-courses and on the bounded fields themselves will further reduce the share of water that can be used beneficially by plants of economic value.” The consequences of conveying these waters into the infertile desert, at a huge cost, “could be plain frustration in the end.”
The canal was in with utmost haste. (Lest the owner should wake up before goods were stolen away.) The land was acquired and the canal was built while Partap Singh Kairon was the chief minister. A well-informed and shrewd man, he must have been aware of its harmful consequences for Punjab; but Punjab’s interests were not his interests. Same was the attitude of Swaran Singh. The Akali leaders, in their crass ignorance, might not have known that it would in the long run spell ruin for their community.
The Rajasthan canal, as it has been dug across the natural flow of water, has caused water logging in large areas of Punjab. Even in Rajasthan, it is proving to be a source of misery for countless people. There lies a stony layer under the soil where a long portion of the canal runs in Rajasthan, which does not allow the water to percolate into the ground, with the result that a vast area has become waterlogged and unfit for cultivation, depriving the people of whatever crops they could get from their unirrigated lands. Besides, it has disturbed the ecological balance of the region.
When a demand was being made for the creation of Haryana, in 1965, the leaders of Haryana knew that, after separation from Punjab, they would have no right in the three rivers of Punjab. Chaudhri Devi Lal and other leaders reassured their people that they would manage their needs with the water of the Yamuna and, if needed, they would get water from U.P. They distributed pamphlets to this effect. But the Centre arbitrarily allotted water from the Punjab rivers to Haryana. And Haryana since then, encouraged by the entre, has started asserting its claim on the Punjab waters.
In 1976 Indira Gandhi, empowered by the Punjab Reorganisation Act (which is specially designed to harm Punjab and is violative of the Indian Constitution), handed down a unilateral award allocating 3.5 M.A.F. of water to Haryana, 3.5 M.A.F. to the Punjab and 8 M.A.F. to Rajasthan, which was shaped into a notification of the Irrigation Ministry of the Central government. The Sikhs opposed the distribution. Parkash Singh Badal called it a “death sentence” on the farmers of Punjab. Giani Zail Singh, the chief minister of Punjab at that time, felt perturbed, not because the award was harmful for Punjab but because it might turn the agriculturist voters of the state against him. But afraid of the displeasure of Indira Gandhi, he made no protest. He accepted Rs. two crores from Haryana as “advance payment for the S.Y.L. construction”. Another installment was later accepted by Parkash Singh Badal when he became chief minister.
Punjab filed a suit in the Supreme Court challenging the validity of Section 78 of the Punjab Reorganization Act, 1966, under which this notification was issued. Advocate Hardev Singh suggested to Badal to challenge all the water, including the portion transferred to Rajasthan. But Badal rejected the idea by saying, “There is no need for such a drastic action”. Haryana approached the Supreme Court for the implementation of this notification of the Central government. The matter was also brought before the then prime minister Morarji Desai, who had replaced Indira Gandhi in the 1977 election. Desai, after discerning the riperian position of the states, told Haryana and Rajasthan bluntly that they had no right to the Punjab waters. It was clear that the award and the Reorganisation Act, under which it was given, being violative of the constitution, would not stand in the court. In the mean time Indira Gandhi returned to power. She coerced the chief minister of Punjab to sign an agreement with Haryana and Rajasthan so that the award was legitimized and the case withdrawn from the Supreme Court. Darbara Singh, the chief minister at the time, resisted a lot when he was being compelled to sign “at the point of gun.” But when he was threatened to be removed from chief ministership, he gave in and signed on the dotted line. The case was withdrawn from the Supreme Court.
In fact no chief minister, whatever his party, would oppose the Central dictate, however harmful it might be for the state. They know that they cannot sit comfortably in the chief minister’s chair after antagonizing the Centre. And, their personal interests are always dearer to them than the interests of Punjab. The long and short of the of the story is that about 65 % of total water of the rivers of Punjab has been given away to Rajasthan and Haryana. Total water in the Satluj, the Beas and the Ravi was originally assessed at 32.5 M.A.F. (but now it is reported to have been reduced to 28.5 M.A.F., or even less, due to natural changes.) Rajasthan takes away 11.2 M.A.F. of the Punjab river waters (8.6 M.A.F. through the Rajasthan Canal, 1.5 M.A.F. through the Bhakra Canal and 1.1 M.A.F. through the Bikaner Canal). And, Haryana has been allotted 7.83 M.A.F. (4.33 M.A.F. goes from the Satluj through the Bhakra Canal. Besides this, 1.62 M.A.F. out of 3.5 M.A.F. alloted from the Ravi-Beas system also runs through the Bhakra canal. The remaining 1.88 M.A.F. is a bone of contention. Over and above this, Haryana also takes 5.6 M.A.F. from the Yamuna.). To add insult to injury, sermons are given, day in and day out, to the Punjab farmers to adopt dry farming or to sow such crops as need less water. It is like a robber advising his victim to make an economical use of what is left with him.
Rajasthan was never riparian to the Punjab rivers and therefore had no right to their waters. Haryana had become non-riparian to the Satluj, the Beas and the Ravi, after reorganisation, just as Punjab had become non-riparian to the Yamuna. When Punjab argued that if Haryana got water from the Punjab rivers, it should get a share from the water of Yamuna, it was told that it could not lay any claim to the Yamuna water because it had become non-riparian after reorganization and that Haryana was getting water from the Punjab rivers because of the Reorganisation Act 1966.
Sardar Pritam Singh Kumedan, a famous expert on Punjab river waters, points out, “As per the Constitutional provisions, when states are reorganized and new ones created, river waters are never divided, because water is not a divisible asset and always goes with the land. In 1953, the Godavari and the Krishna rivers and the Cauveri flowed through the composite state of Madras. On the formation of Andhra Pradesh in November 1953, Madras did not get a drop of water from the Godavari and Krishna, as it ceased to be riparian of these rivers. Similarly, Andhra did not get any water from the Cauvery, as it ceased to be its riparian. Water was not divided when Assam was separated from Bengal in 1874; NWFP detached from Punjab in 1901; Bengal partitioned in 1905 and reunited in 1912; Bihar- Orissa were separated from Bengal in1912; Orissa separated from Bihar in 1936; Sind separated from Bombay in 1936; Andhra formed in 1953; Gujarat and Maharashtra formed out of Bombay in 1960; north-eastern states created in 1972; and Jharkhand, Uttrakhand and Chhatisgarh formed in 2000.” But consequent upon these divisions, river waters were never divided. None of the states of India is deprived of its river water. Punjab is the only exception.
Another attempt at judicial redress was made in 1983. An organisation of farmers filed a writ petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. Chief Justice S.S. Sandhawalia admitted the petition and fixed it to be heard two days later, on November 25, 1983, by a full bench headed by himself. But the chief justice was transferred in the intervening two days to the High Court of Bihar and the case, under the plea that it was of great public importance, was shifted to Supreme Court in an illegal manner. It was not heard of again and probably has been withdrawn from the court under duress.
After enormous destruction and bloodshed, the Rajiv-Longowal accord was signed in 1985, which stipulated the setting up of a tribunal to decide the shares of Rajasthan and Haryana in the waters of Punjab and the completion of S.Y.L. canal by Punjab. (The “Dharm Yudh Morcha”, which resulted in horrible destruction and bloodshed, was initially launched to stop this canal). Having his own political motives, Longowal did not show any interest in saving the waters of Punjab; he rather lent legitimacy to the unconstitutional claims of Rajasthan and Haryana. When Surjit Singh Barnala became chief minister, he did his utmost, in pursuance of this Accord, to complete the S.Y.L. canal. He had constructed 90 per cent of its built portion in the Punjab when the Sikh militants stopped work on it by killing a number of engineers and workers.
Later, when Captain Amarinder Singh was the chief minister, the supreme court, on a petition of Haryana, ordered that the S.Y.L. canal in the Punjab territory should be completed by Punjab, and, if Punjab does not do it, the Centre should assign this task to one of its own agencies by 20th July 2004. This landed the Centre in a difficult situation. If the construction of the canal was recommenced it might again cause a turmoil in Punjab where peace had been restored after drastic efforts. But a trick was devised. The Centre, it is said, drafted a document terminating all past interstate agreements and sent it to the Captain who called an emergency session of the state Assembly and got it passed with the support of the Akalis. Then, accompanied by Parkash Singh Badal, he went to the Governor who signed the document in no time and it became The Punjab Agreements Termination Act 2004. The Centre killed two birds with one stone. The construction of the canal was avoided but a provision was made in article 5 of the Act that the existing flow of water to Rajasthan and Haryana would continue unaffected. Thus Captain Amarinder Singh stabbed Punjab in the back. So far all the interstate agreements were made outside the state Assembly and therefore had no legal or constitutional validity, but he accorded legislative sanction to the loot of the Punjab waters. It should not be forgotten that Amarinder Singh had welcomed Indira Gandhi at village Kapuri when she came there to inaugurate the S.Y.L. canal.
All the agreements and arrangements regarding the Punjab waters (which include the 1955 inter-state meeting decision, the 1976 notification of the Irrigation Ministry of the government of India, the 1981 agreement involving chief minister Darbara Singh, Rajiv- Longowal agreement of 1985 and the clauses 78, 79 and 80 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act 1966) were made under duress of the Centre, are mala fide and void. Section 25 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872 says an agreement without consideration is void and it has to be as per Article 299 0f the Constitution. Helsinki rules, 1966, adopted by the International Law Association, to which India is a signatory, hold that “rivers belong to the state through which they pass.” According to entry 17 of List-ii under Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution, which pertains to waters, Punjab has the sole right to the total waters of all its three rivers— the Satluj, the Beas and the Ravi. And the Constitution lays down that only Punjab Legislative Assembly has the exclusive power to make laws about Punjab waters. No Chief minister, no Prime minister, no leader of any sort, not even the Parliament of India has any such power. If the rulers have mala fide intentions, there can be a hundred ways to bypass the Constitution. Even otherwise, this ‘sacred’ document can be changed any time. The Indian Constitution has been so far changed it more than 100 times.
Whenever the leaders and officers of Punjab raise the issue of Punjab waters or present their case before a tribunal or court, they never assert that Rajasthan and Haryana have no right in the Punjab rivers and, therefore, they must not get any water from these rivers. Rather, they start with the assumption that the waters of Punjab are sharable. They commit the blunder of making their case need-based instead of right-based. They only demand that Haryana should be given less water. This is because, if the whole water allocated to Haryana has to be carried to that state, the S.Y.L. canal has to be built. And to build this canal in the present circumstances will be suicidal for the Punjab leaders. If this canal is not built, 1.88 M.A.F. of water is retained with Punjab. All the three or four cases, which are pending with the Supreme Court, are about the Ravi and Beas waters, and they are vis-a-vis Haryana. There is no mention of Rajasthan. If all these cases are decided in favour of Punjab, it is exempted from giving 1.88 M.A.F. water to Haryana. It gains nothing more than this. No claim is made on 11.2 M.A.F. water which has been given to Rajasthan and which forms about 40 % of the total water of the three rivers of Punjab. It seems that the governments of Punjab always get the guidance of the Centre before taking any step.
Rajasthan and Haryana are robbing Punjab of 18200 crore rupees every year by taking away 18200 cusecs of its water free of cost (Rajasthan 11500 cusecs and Haryana 6700 cusecs). According to the Central Water and Power Commission, the price of one cusec of water for a year these days is one crore rupees.
This water, in the real sense, is the life-blood of Punjab which is being drained away generation after generation. Two centuries ago, the Sikhs secured their land against age long aggressions and robberies from the north; now they are faced with plundering from the south which is more insidious and more lethal. If it is not ended, Punjab is sure to be ruined. Its people will go in search of bread to other regions where their sons will do humiliating jobs and their daughters will work as house maids and face all types of ill treatment.
When Punjabi Suba was being formed some of its opponents met Gulzari Lal Nanda, who was determining the territories and controls of resources of the upcoming state, and expressed their apprehensions. Nanda is said to have reassured them that he would form such a Punjabi Suba that the Sikhs would flee from it. Now anyone can see that his plan is working more than he could have hoped. The Sikhs are selling their lands and seeking livelihood in foreign countries; and those who are left behind are dying of cancer and other horrible diseases. Gulzari Lal Nanda, wherever he is, must be gloating over the success of his project. But it should not be forgotten that he was only a cog in the machine which was manufactured in 1947 but whose nature was determined centuries ago.
If the stolen water of Punjab is recovered, tube wells will not have to be sunk, the ground water will not be depleted, enormous amounts of diesel and electricity will be saved, thermal pants will not have to be installed and concomitant pollution and diseases will not afflict people. Punjab’s own electricity will be sufficient for its industry. And Punjab will become a very rich state.
But the situation as it prevails today is that Punjab has been trapped hopelessly. However hard its people may work and may start living on one meal a day, they will not be able to save themselves. The noose which has been put around their neck will continue to tighten. If this colossal injustice perpetrated on Punjab is not remedied, only God knows what shape the consequences may take; and they will be bad not only for Punjab but also for India.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2014, All