Punjab leaders seek assent for SYL bill, governor non-committal

Chandigarh, March 15 (IANS) Acting Punjab Governor Kaptan Singh Solanki remained non-committal as state politicians led by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal met him here on Tuesday afternoon to seek early assent to an SYL canal bill passed by the assembly a day earlier.

“The governor gave us a patient hearing. He said he had not yet got the copy of the bill (unanimously passed by the Punjab assembly on Monday). He will decide on this. We had to give our view (on the SYL issue),” said Badal who led to the governor the delegation of leaders of various political parties in Punjab.

“Water is a serious issue in Punjab. Our industry, trade, farming — everything is affected by it. Whatever step we have to take, we are taking and will take. For (saving) Punjab’s water, we will take the toughest of steps,” Badal told the media after the meeting.

Badal had, in the Punjab assembly, introduced “The Punjab Sutlej Yamuna Link Canal Land (Transfer of Proprietary Rights) Bill, 2016” to de-notify the land acquired for construction of the SYL canal and return 3,928 acres free of cost to the original landowners. The land was acquired nearly four decades ago.

In response, the Haryana government and the assembly said the Punjab bill was “unconstitutional” and a threat to the federal structure. Haryana is seeking additional water from Punjab through the SYL canal.

Sources in the Punjab Raj Bhavan said that Solanki will decide on the controversial bill only after seeking expert opinion.

Solanki, who is the governor of Haryana, has been holding additional charge of Punjab since January last year.

Solanki has been in the midst of a political storm for taking contradictory view on water-sharing and SYL issues in his address to the Punjab and Haryana assemblies in the past one week. The governor’s address to the state assembly is prepared by the state government.

Asked if there was pressure from the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh) and the BJP, an ally of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab, on the SYL issue, Badal evaded the query but said: “I have not met anyone in the RSS. Punjab’s water will remain with it. Under no circumstances will it be allowed to be taken.”

The dispute between Punjab and Haryana over river water-sharing intensified on Monday as the Punjab assembly passed the bill to return the land acquired for the SYL canal and the Haryana assembly, within hours, passing a “unanimous resolution” condemning the move.

The Haryana assembly described Punjab’s move as “unilateral, unconstitutional and denying the authority of the Supreme Court, a step only to draw political mileage”.

In a resolution, it requested the central government “to annul this illegal and unconstitutional action” (of Punjab).

Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said he would speak to his Punjab counterpart Badal to express his “displeasure” over the issue.

“This step is unconstitutional and an injury to the federal structure. I will speak to Mr Badal and will definitely convey my displeasure over this issue,” Khattar said.

Haryana claims to be a water-deficit state and has said it has been deprived of more than half of its legitimate share of 3.50 MAF (million acre feet) in surplus Ravi-Beas water.

The Supreme Court recently accepted a Haryana government petition for early hearing on the issue.

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