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When we consider it from national perspective, and clearly it would be difficult for us to do otherwise, Punjab river waters issue is a very sensitive issue. It can not wait to get solved any longer. Not only Punjab’s fate but the integrity of the Constitution also hangs in the balance. Things go wrong when arbitrary decisions are made to craft solutions flagrantly transgressing the Constitution. Such decisions inflame the issue further rather than settling it.
The genius of democracy is that it has the ability through debate to achieve consensus and provide mechanism to settle disputes for smooth functioning of various organs of government. Keeping in view centuries old experience of various nations and our own circumstances, framers of the Constitution of India tellingly spelt out that rivers in a State are under the legislative control of that State. If the mandarins of government — executive, legislative, judiciary — do not abide by the Constitution who else is expected to protect its integrity.
Aren’t Sections 78, 79 and 80 of the Punjab Re-organization Act, 1966 manifestly violative of the Constitution (Article 246, entry 17 of the State List)? The Central Government and members of the Parliament were not so naïve that they were not aware of the unconstitutionality of the aforesaid provisions of the Punjab Reorganization Act, 1966. Narrow political outlook and fecklessness of the executive and legislative did not remain hidden in the enactment of Sections 78, 79 and 80 ibid. But worse followed. The legal system so put in place was further abused to harass and rein in political opponents. The Eradi Tribunal and justices of the Division Bench punted on their core constitutional duty to adjudicate the vires of Sections 78, 79 and 80 of the Punjab Re-organization Act, 1966 which issue was forcefully pleaded before them. Administratively the DB order of 15.1.2002 is a clinching stroke - Mohammad-ibin-Tughlaqian* albeit; - though juridically it is flawed jurisdictionally.
Presence of Sections 78, 79 & 80 of the Punjab Reorganization, 1966 is a continuing challenge to the integrity of the Constitution, its misuse for encroaching upon Punjab waters notwithstanding. The State of Punjab has once again challenged the vires of the aforesaid Sections of law as also the Division Bench order of January 15, 2002 before the Supreme Court in a fresh suit filed on January 13, 2003. Its outcome is awaited.
It is ultimately a public policy issue which engineers, economists, lawyers, bureaucrats will have input on. but they are not going to be ones making the ultimate decision which has to be made by the public leaders who must rise to the occasion, avoid cheap shots and demonstrate that they are fit to run the government and are not mere hobblers.
* Muhammad-ibin-Tughlaq was King of Delhi Sultanate from 1325 to 51. He made Daultabad (Devagiri) in the south his second capital and forced Delhi residents to move there. Later on he changed his decision. His quixotic order proved perilous to the people of Delhi and his own Kingdom