Maintain status quo on SYL canal: SC

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

A constitution bench headed by Justice Anil R. Dave said: “Prima facie, it appears that an effort has been made to see that the execution of a decree of this court is being made inexecutable and this court cannot be a silent spectator of the said fact and therefore, we direct that status quo shall be maintained by the parties…

“In the circumstances, the Secretary, Home Department, Union of India, (ii) The Chief Secretary, State of Punjab and (iii) The Director General of Police, State of Punjab, are appointed as court receivers… and all the properties… shall be deemed to have vested in them and they shall also see that status quo is maintained with regard to the properties…

Appointing the court’s receivers, as prayed for by Haryana, the court said that the status quo is maintained in respect of “lands, works, property and portions of the SYL canal and all lands within the alignment of the SYL canal within the territories of the state of Punjab” which are covered by its 2002 and 2004 judgments.

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

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

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

The constitution bench is holding a hearing on the presidential reference seeking apex court’s advisory opinion on the 2004 law passed by Punjab during the rule of Congress government led by Amarinder Singh, terminating all water-sharing agreements with 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 the ground situation and reality.

Describing the application as “urgent”, Haryana’s counsel Shyam Divan urged the court to step in since JCB and earth-moving equipment were being moved in the SYL canal area in Punjab.

He said farmers from whom the land was acquired or their legal heirs have been asked to take possession of their land and district officials instructed to allow the same.

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

Haryana’s counsel said that the Punjab Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal (Rehabilitation and Re-vesting of Proprietary Rights) Bill was contrary to the constitution, 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 a lapse of 25 years on the grounds of change in conditions.

He said that Haryana’s share in SYL water was based on 1920 data and the situation had radically changed now. “Conditions have changed completely,” he said.

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

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

Referring to the language of Article 143 of the constitution, 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 for further hearing in the matter on March 31.

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