SYL : A RETROSPECTIVE LOOK
Dr Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon
Even as the legal, administrative and political ramifications of the Supreme Court judgement on the Sutluj-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal are being discussed and debated, the decision has not come as a surprise to those who are conversant with the past history of the water issue. Haryana had filed a petition in the Supreme Court to get the water agreement between Punjab and Haryana implemented for the construction of the SYL canal, as per the provisions of the Rajiv-Longowal accord (1985). It was pleaded that Haryana had already completed its part of the canal and paid Rs 600 Crore to Punjab for the construction of the remaining part in its territory. Now the Supreme Court has ordered the Punjab Government to complete the canal in a year’s time.
It is amazing that the Shiromani Akali Dal has once again raised a hue and cry that it will not allow a single drop of water to go to Haryana. The Akalis themselves had signed the Rajiv-longowal accord (1985). Mr. Parkash Singh Badal had given his full concurrence to this accord which had sanctioned the digging of the SYL canal. The Akali leadership, which blamed the congress and launched the “dharam yudh morcha” to prevent the digging of the SYL canal, suddenly turned a blind eye to the vital economic interests of Punjab in their anxiety to reap electoral harvest, they took no cognizance of the grave implications of the construction of the canal for the future. The accord was totally incongruous with their earlier commitments on the water issue. Their failure to look beyond the narrow horizon of electoral politics compounded the problems Punjab.
The water issue in Punjab can be put in its proper perspective only when we study it in its entirety and historical totality. Before 1966, Punjab was in complete control of its rivers and hydel power. Ever since the reorganization of Punjab in 1966. The most important demand of the Akali Dal has been the restoration of the state’s river waters as per constitutional, national and international norms based on the riparian principles. Sections 78 to 80 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act gave unlimited powers of control, development and distribution of waters to the Centre. In 1976, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi announced a unilateral Award which allowed non-riparian states of Haryana and Rajasthan to make use of Punjab waters and hydel power. Chief Minister Giani Zail Singh did not have the courage either to protest against the Unconstitutional Award or to file a suit against it in the Supreame Court. In 1978 when an Akali ministry was in power in the state and the Janta ministry was at the Centre, the Akali Dal filed a case in the Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of Sections 78 to 80 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act. In 1980, when Indira Gandhi came back to power, she literally coerced Chief Minister, Darbara Singh, into signing an agreement (1981) with the non-riparian states of Haryana and Rajasthan, thereby withdrawing the case filed by the Akali ministry in the Supreme Court. The Prime Minister was aware that the Punjab Reorganisation Act could not stand judicial scrutiny. Hence the judicial channel to resolve the water issue was studiously closed.
The problem has been compounded due to the failure of the government to find a solution to the river water issue as per constitutional, national and international norms. The much publicised Rajiv-Longowal accord, which generated a lot of euphoria in the media, was a retrogressive step. The only outcome of the accord was the digging of the SYL canal against which the Akali Dal had led a full-scale agitation. The handling of the issue by the Centre and the successive governments of Punjab has not been in a spirit of sincerity and statesmanship. It has always been politically motivated. All parties in Punjab, be it the Congress or the Akali Dal, have used the issue for electoral gains. The story presents a sordid tale of political trickery, discriminatory policies, deceptive accords, murky intrigues, confrontation, morchas and bloodshed.
The recent announcement of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal to file a review petition in the Supreme Court is a mere eyewash. It is a face saving device. The Badal government has had a full five-year term when it could chalk out a clear plan of action to resolve the pending issues. But this term was characterised by inaptitude, corruption, poor performance, dwindling standards of political behaviour, lack of accountability and reluctance to address vital political issues. As a result political stalemate in Punjab has continued as before.