Maintain status quo on SYL canal, orders SC

New Delhi, March 17 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered status quo on the Sutlej Yamuna Link Canal (SYL canal) and appointed the union home secretary as well as the Punjab chief secretary and police chief as receiver of the canal and assets associated with it.

The constitution bench headed by Justice Anil R. Dave said: “Prima facie it appears that an effort is being made to make the decree confirmed by this court inexecutable. Supreme Court can’t be a silent spectator in this situation.”

Appointing the joint receivers, as prayed for by Haryana, it said: “The status quo should be maintained with regards to lands (acquired for constructing SYL).”

The court order would affect the transfer of 3,928 acres of land along 122 km stretch of SYL Canal in Punjab to the farmers from whom it was acquired for the construction of the canal for transporting 3.5 MAF of water to Haryana.

The order came from the bench also has Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose, Justice Shiva Kirti Singh, Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel and Justice Amitava Roy on an application by Haryana seeking appointment of the central government as court’s receiver of the land, works, property and portion of SYL in Punjab.

Besides this, Haryana had sought to restrain Panjab from publishing the Punjab Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal (Rehabilitation and Re-vesting of Proprietary Rights) Bill in the official gazette. The bill was passed on March 14.

The constitution bench is holding a hearing on the presidential reference seeking apex court’s advisory opinion on the 2004 Punjab law that was passed during the tenure of then chief minister, Capt. Amarinder Singh, terminating all water sharing agreement with the neighbouring Haryana and other states.

The court order came even as Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar sought time to take instructions from the central government and assessment of what was the situation and the ground reality.

Describing the application as “urgent”, senior counsel Shyam Divan appearing for Haryana urged the court to step in as JCB and earth-moving equipment too is being moved in in the area of SYL.

He said that farmers from whom the lands were acquired or their legal heirs have been asked to take possession of their land and officials in the districts have been asked to allow them.

Divan also referred to a statement by Punjab Rural Development Minister Surjit Singh Rakhra that his government “wants to ensure that the land acquired is made cultivable at the earliest”.

Haryana said that Punjab Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal (Rehabilitation and Re-vesting of Proprietary Rights) Bill was contrary to the constitutionalism, rule of law, Directive Principles of State Policy and federalism.

Describing all the arguments advanced by Haryana as “rhetorical exuberance”, senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for Punjab, told the bench that every agreement was reviewable after the lapse of 25 years on the grounds of change in conditions.

He said that the SYL share of water to Haryana was based on 1920 data and now the situation has radically changed. “Conditions have changed completely,” he said.

Referring to the prayers in Haryana’s application, Dhavan said that what it was actually seeking was the invalidation of 2004 Punjab Act terminating all river water sharing agreements and seeking the notification of Justice Eradi water tribunal’s order which has not been notified so far as challenge to it was pending before the apex court.

Senior counsel Ram Jethmalani appearing also for Punjab told the constitution bench that it was hearing a Presidential reference for its advisory opinion which is always accepted but was not binding.

Referring to the language of the constitution’s article 143, he said that “(plea for) interim relief (sought by Haryana) can’t come up in advisory jurisdiction (of the top court). It will be in the form of advice and not interim order.”

The court directed the next hearing of the matter on March 30.

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