Without sharing a drop, Punjab-Haryana spar over SYL canal (India Water Week is currently being observed)

Chandigarh, April 7 (IANS) Even as several parts of the country face a drought and water shortages, the country’s leading foodgrain states – Punjab and Haryana – continue to be locked in a bitter water war over a canal.

At the centre of their latest political spat is the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal. The ground reality of all this political grandstanding is that not a drop of water has flowed through the disputed canal in the past nearly 40 years and chances are that it never will.

The SYL Canal, that was to link two major rivers (Sutlej and Yamuna) in Punjab and Haryana, was planned and major portions of it was even completed in the 1990s at a cost of over Rs.750 crore (over $110 million) at that time. But it now remains entangled in a political and legal quagmire with both states adamant in their stands and unprepared to accomodate the other to the detriment of people, particularly farmers, of both states.

Both states and their leaders have flogged the SYL issue in the past nearly four decades to score their respective political brownie points. The leaders have even indulged in brinkmanship at the cost of vitiating the social atmosphere and creating a sense of distrust among people of the two states.

With assembly polls in Punjab just 10 months away, the SYL issue has been propped up by the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal to help the party meet its political ends in view of the strong challenge being posed by the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on the state’s political scene and the efforts of the Congress to politically revive itself.

Punjab, the land of five rivers, is adamant that it will not share a single drop of water with Haryana or any other state. Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his Akali Dal are leading from the front on this emotive issue.

The contentious SYL issue has not embroiled Punjab and Haryana alone. The matter has knocked the doors of the union government and the Supreme Court. It has also rocked both state assemblies. The Punjab assembly, in 2004, passed the controversial Punjab Termination of Water Agreements Bill on water sharing with other states.

The Punjab assembly, even when the Supreme Court is seized of the SYL issue, passed a resolution to allow de-notification of acquisition of land for the SYL canal which was done nearly four decades back. This brought Punjab into direct confrontation with the Haryana government and the apex court. The Punjab government said that it will return 5,376 acres of land to the original owners.

“Haryana is a water deficit state and the availability of water is 61 percent less than the total requirement. Out of 126 blocks, 71 are overexploited for groundwater. The situation is so grim that in half of the state, canal water can be supplied after a gap of 32 days for only eight days, with the result that it is difficult to even fulfil the drinking water needs and ponds,” a counter resolution moved by the Haryana assembly stated last month.

“Availability of water in Yamuna has declined drastically compared to the previous years and even out of this reduced availability, Haryana has to fulfil the drinking water requirements of the national capital of Delhi,” the resolution added.

“Since the formation of Haryana in 1966, despite Government of India orders in 1976, Tripartite agreement between the states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan in 1981, Rajiv-Longowal Accord in 1995 and two historic decisions of the Supreme Court of India in 2002 and 2004, Haryana has been deprived of more than half of its legitimate share of 3.50 MAF (million acre feet) in surplus Ravi Beas water, which has resulted in reduction in agriculture production to the tune of 800,000 tonnes of food grains every year, causing a perpetual annual loss of about Rs. 1,000 crore,” the resolution stated.

Badal is not the least inclined to listen to Haryana’s arguments.

“Successive union and state governments of the Congress party had systematically robbed Punjab of all its vital interests, most especially on the issue of river waters,” Badal has said.

“Any compromise on river waters would amount to signing the death warrant of every Punjabi. This must be confronted, fought and defeated. Anything is precisely what we are totally committed to achieving,” Badal said recently while hardening his stand on the issue.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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