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Since the advent of civilization and history — Harappan, Aryan, Vedic — Punjab rivers have shaped the physical features of their region as well as the destiny and identity of its people. They have held unique lure for the settler, explorer and invader. Momentous events — wars and treaties — took place on their banks. Alexander strode across them from Jehlum to Beas in 327 B.C.; the English check-mated Ranjit Singh’s forays beyond Satluj through their 25.10.1831 treaty on Satluj at Ropar; and the Anglo-Sikh Wars of 1845-1846 and 1848-49 to protect the sovereignty of the last kingdom of the Indian sub-continent were fought on the banks of Satluj (Mudki: 18.12.1845, Pherushahar : 21-22.12.1846, Sabraon: 10.02.1846) and Jehlum — Chenab (Ramnagar : 22.11.1848, Chillianwala: 13.01.1849, Gujarat: 21.02.1949).

In 1947, India was divided to form the present day India and Pakistan. Apportionment of Punjab river waters became a gravely contentious issue between the two countries. It was resolved under the aegis of World Bank with the signing of the Indus Treaty on 19.09.1960 which put rivers Ravi, Beas and Satluj in India’s share.

The Constitution of India enforced with effect from January 26,1950 placed river waters in the State List. Thus Ravi, Beas and Satluj are under the legislative control of State of Punjab.

To provide stilts to India’s case in the pre-Indus Treaty parleys, an administrative ingenuity was resorted to: 8.0 MAF was earmarked for Rajasthan in 1955.

Gigantic projects —Bhakra, Pong and new canals — were started to accelerate the development of Punjab, devastated badly in wake of the partition. Hardly had Punjab salvaged itself from its sufferings of 1947 division, when it was truncated again to constitute a new State Haryana and greater Himachal Pradesh.

While drafting the Punjab Reorganization Act, 1966, Sections 78, 79, 80, plainly ultra-vires of the Constitution of India, were subtly engrafted providing for allocation of Punjab river waters to non-riparian States. This led to agitations and protests. Not-with- standing all this, the Central Government, acting under clearly unconstitutional provisions of the Punjab Reorganization Act, 1966, allocated , vide its notification of 24-03-1976, hefty quantities of Punjab river waters to non-riparian States of Haryana and Rajasthan. It was not acceptable to Punjab. Haryana filed a suit for the implementation of 24-3-76 notification. That was opposed by Punjab which in its counter suit challenged the constitutionality of Sections 78, 79 and 80 of the Punjab Reorganization Act, 1966. Consequent to an agreement hammered out by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi between Chief Ministers of Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab — all of her Congress party — on 31-12-1981, Punjab and Haryana withdrew their suits from the Supreme Court. This agreement was not workable. Punjab was engulfed in an extremely serious law and order situation. One of the turbulent phases of the anti-SYL canal agitation came to an end with the signing of Rajiv-Longowal accord on 24-7-1985 which, inter alia, provided that the usage of waters by farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan as on 1-7-1985 will be verified and claims of Punjab and Haryana regarding the shares in their remaining waters will be adjudicated upon by a Tribunal. The Tribunal set up pursuant to Rajiv-Longowal accord made its preliminary report on 30-1-1987. Punjab submitted its objections against the interim report to the Tribunal. The Central Government also sought some clarifications about the interim report from the Tribunal. No final report/award has been made by the Tribunal so far.

Haryana in its suit (O.S.6 of 1996) sought injunction for the implementation of 24.3.76 notification, 31-12-1981 agreement and 24-7-85 accord. A Division Bench of the Supreme court vide its order of 15-1-2002 decreed the suit in favour of Haryana.

Haryana leadership was jubilant at the Supreme Court order; Punjab leaders did not consider it to be correct decision. Many a senior lawyer, scholar and engineer made comments disapproving the ratio of the Supreme Court order. To acquaint myself with the contents of the Supreme Court order, I obtained its copy and studied it diligently. The premises of reasoning in the judgment surprised me no end. To hear the suit the Supreme Court Division Bench accreted to itself power which did not belong to it; having assigned jurisdiction over the suit the Division Bench punted on its core constitutional duty to adjudicate the vires of Sections 78, 79 and 80 of the Punjab Reorganization Act, 1966 impugned before it; and while pronouncing its verdict the Division Bench cast aside the traditionally prominent rule of logic: prohibition against contradiction —— a proposition can’t be both true and false. Contrariness in the reasoning stated in the Division Bench order is protrusive: “Construction of SYL canal is essentially one for the purpose of utilizing the water that has already been allotted to the share of Haryana and, consequently, cannot be construed to be in any way inter-linked with the distribution or control of water of, in any way inter state river or river valley”.

“ – construction of SYL canal has absolutely no connection with the sharing of water between the States and as such is not a Water dispute

Since no river was flowing within the state of Haryana —-

The quantity of water that has already been allocated in favour of the State of Haryana must be allowed to be drawn and that can be drawn only if the additional link canal is completed”

Pleadings of the parties before the Supreme Court, Division Bench’s reasoning about the ratio of its judgment and its final verdict leave nothing in doubt that the issues before the learned justices concerned the construction of the canal for carriage of Punjab river waters to Haryana and thus it was a manifestly clear water dispute. And when allocation of water is not settled, what the canal, if dug, will be for? It is plainly meant to carry water and not to serve as an engineering museum, a defense embankment or an entertainment park.

To benefit from the views of the widest spectrum of the persons conversant with the subject, a seminar was organized at Chandigarh on November 10, 2002. Academics, lawyers, ex-judges, journalists, bureaucrats, engineers, scholars from India and abroad participated in the seminar and made their learned observations. I also presented a paper on the Constitutional Aspect of SYL canal. I benefited a lot from the deliberations at the seminar and my discussions with different segments of people.

Whenever I tried to access a single book dealing with the issue, I found that there was none though no doubt there were learned articles by erudite scholars, lawyers, engineers, economists, journalists, leaders, bureaucrats and public men written for certain specific purposes and from different points of view. Dr. Kharak Singh Mann, Dr. Gurcharan Singh Kalkat, Dr. Kirpal Singh, Dr. Gurbakhsh Singh USA, Lt. Gen. Kartar Singh Gill, Bibi Baljit Kaur and Sardar Inderjit Singh Jaijee prodded me to write a compact piece on the subject. Because of their affectionate motivation, I set off to write this compendium concerning the construction of SYL canal and its impact on Punjab. And here it is in this booklet styled Scramble For Punjab River Waters.

It is not a research dissertation but a brief account of the various aspects of the problem that traces the development of SYL canal dispute highlighting the most significant milestones of the most recent era to help readers form clear perspective of the issues.

I have intended it to be just a ready reckoner for a lay reader and a marker for those who may wish to do deeper study of issues concerning waters of Punjab rivers.

Happy Reading

Gurdev Singh



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