THE TRUTH BEHIND SYL ISSUE*
The judgement of the Supreme Court on the completion of the SYL canal was delivered in January this year, asking Punjab to complete its portion of the SYL canal by January, 2003. The two successive Punjab Governments have been planning to file an appeal, but so far nothing concrete has been done. With this the state of affairs, let us review the entire scenario from the beginning.
As everyone is aware, the three rivers whose “excess water” Punjab is made to part with — the Satluj, the Ravi and the Beas — flow in India through Punjab, besides Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. Even today Punjab is giving half of the waters in these rivers to Rajasthan and another one-fourth to Haryana. It is the remaining one-fourth water, which is the bone of contention today, which has been projected by some as flowing to Pakistan, and is sought to be diverted to Haryana.
Haryana is by natural law, that is internationally recognised and accepted for handling such disputes, not a rightful claimant to Punjab river waters. It is not a riparian state to any of the three rivers. Then how can it demand or claim these waters, when with present political boundaries, none of these rivers even flow close to it? It is like Jharkhand demanding Ganga waters from Bihar from which it has separated or Gujarat asking for Godavari water as in the past it too was part of Bombay Presidency. Carrying this argument further, we all know that Burma, now an independent country, was part of British India before gaining independence. Therefore, if tomorrow it lays claim to Ganga-Bramhaputra waters, going by same argument under which Haryana is seeking water from Punjab, India will have to part with its waters. And the list of claims under this most unnatural argument will be infinite.
Looking at it in another way, Punjab is not a riparian state to the Ganga-Yamuna river system. But before its bifurcation, the Yamuna was flowing along the boundary of its territory. Then while allocating Haryana’s share in Punjab river waters to it, should not the “due share” of water in the Yamuna be given to Punjab? Haryana must answer, if it is ready to part with or share waters of the Yamuna canals, being used by it, in affirmative.
By natural law only riparian countries or states can and do have legitimate claim to any river waters systems. Whether it is the case of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka sharing Cauveri waters or India and Pakistan sharing rivers of the Indus basin or India and Bangladesh sharing Ganga-Bramhaputra waters. Even considering hypothetically, India or no international forum would entertain a Pakistan claim, should tomorrow it decides to press ahead with one, demanding Ganga river waters, giving the argument that it was also a part of pre-partition India and, therefore, has a right over them. If today we agree to Haryana’s claim, it would be opening a Pandora’s box, having to deal with all sorts of fictitious claims.
Actually, Haryana has no rightful claim to the Punjab rivers. The noble commissions set up by the then Central Government, with God knows what motives, did not even bother to consider, or knowingly twisted, the ground realities. The righteousness of their working and intentions can be gauged from the glaring omissions they have made in their functioning. For example, how did the Eradi Commission, on whose report the court has based its judgement, include the Ravi’s water in the calculation of total and surplus waters of Punjab rivers, when the Thein Dam made to harness waters of this river was not even existing at that time. That it was completed merely quarter of a century after the award was given may appear as a minor flaw to some.
Have any of these commissions ever considered the falling watertable in the entire northern, eastern and central Punjab because of excess drawing of ground water (as canal water is not available in most of these areas). A state, which cannot provide enough water to its more than half of available area for irrigation, has been reported to be having surplus water by the noble commissions.
Even if there was any logic in their argument (though not understandable) at the time of the commission’s award, based on which the apex court has given its judgement, there exist none today, for considering existing ground water resources in Punjab as “surplus”. Poor rains for the last so many consecutive years in the region and lowering of the ground watertable because of its over-exploitation for irrigation, will soon turn Punjab into a desert, if a comprehensive canal water system is not developed for the entire state.
There is not enough water in Punjab for even itself if the entire state is to be irrigated with waters from its own rivers. Have we not seen this year that Punjab has received not even 50 per cent of the normal rain in the monsoon? The insufficient rain in the catchment areas of the Ravi and Beas rivers have turned them into mere “nullahs”. All the reservoirs are well short of the comparable levels of even last year. If Punjab had surplus water after parting with three-fourths of its water, it would have happily given the same. But where is the “surplus” water that is to be shared? How can water resources in such a state be considered as surplus and others raise demand for their “share”? It is like robbing an impoverished man.
This problem has arisen entirely because of myopic and biased politics. Like the Pakistan governments, which have had no other agenda to talk about other than propaganda against India, successive Haryana politicians have also fed its people and the central governments with an anti-Punjab malicious campaign. This they have done to further their own narrow political interests. At every rally and forum, we get a statement from Haryana politicians that they will not give up their share of water in the Punjab rivers or their claim on Chandigarh or so-called Hindi-speaking areas in Punjab. But the people of Haryana must see through this game. They must understand that the politicians are doing it to merely divert their attention from the real issues that concern them i.e. poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, caste conflicts, women’s emancipation and so on. So must the Centre.
How false is the claim of the champions of Haryana’s cause can be seen from the following. Punjab even today has a much bigger canal network than Haryana, and Haryana is already receiving nearly the same quantum of water from the Punjab rivers, that Punjab is. Besides, it is also drawing water from the Yamuna river. Haryana politicians are very vociferously saying that they are claiming water that is draining away to Pakistan. If Punjab with its much bigger canal water distribution and supply network is not able to harness this “surplus” water and it is flowing out of the country, how will Haryana handle this extra water in its already overloaded smaller canal system?
Various state governments of Punjab in the past had submitted before pressure from the Centre and have sacrificed Punjab’s interests — whether it were the Akali or Congress governments. They had always been agitating on various issues and raising demands when they were in opposition, but colluded with the biased Central Governments when in power. Be it the question of transfer of Punjabi-speaking areas, now a part of Haryana, Rajasthan or Himachal Pradesh, or return of Chandigarh made for Punjab to it, or the more recent question of non-inclusion of Shaheed Udham Singh Nagar in Uttaranchal, Punjab politicians have sold their own state’s and people interests for their own narrow political or economic gains.
The media too have shown an anti-Punjab bias while reporting the conflicts of Punjab with the Centre on other states. In the past few years we have seen the role of a very active electronic media in the important and also not so important matters of national interest. But how many times has this particular issue been discussed or debated? Neo-intellectuals and educated learned urban gentlemen of the country also view even the legitimate demands of Punjab as threats, without even understanding them. As they are the prominent customers of English language newspapers and television, this section of the media feeds them with what they want to read.
The last government of Punjab was too weak to present its case to the Central Government. It was only busy in making hay while the sun was shining. Having just three Lok Sabha members and everybody knowing fully well that it would not get another term even at the state level, after its misdeeds had started becoming open, it was not of much use even to its ally central government. So why would the Centre support the needs of people of such a state. Nor could it present its case efficiently in the light of which the Supreme Court ruling was pronounced. This has been the bad luck of the people of Punjab for the last more than 25 years. Either there was President’s rule and no state government existed to present its case to the Centre or if it were there, it was in opposition to the Union Government, which would not treat it favourably. For a while when the state and Union governments were friendly, either the threat of terrorism was so prominent that it diverted attention from any other problem or the politicians at the helm of affairs were incompetent or were busy filling their own coffers.
Today judiciary is the last refuge of the victims of oppression in the entire country. We the people of Punjab request the respected judiciary of India to see the entire matter in the light of reason, truth and the present-day ground reality, and review its decision. In the past we have seen the judiciary correct so many wrongs in the country and prevented injustice, we hope, truth and logic will prevail again.