No transfer of Punjab water to non-basin areas: All-party meeting

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Chandigarh, Jan 23 (IANS) Expressing concern over the state’s critical water situation, an all-party meeting, chaired by Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh here on Thursday, demanded reassessment of the state’s water availability.

Also, it unanimously resolved the government of India should ensure the river water is not in any way transferred from basin to non-basin areas of the state’s three rivers.

All parties also unanimously demanded suitable amendments to the proposed Inter State River Water Disputes Act to set up a new tribunal, to ensure that Punjab gets adequate water “in a just and equitable manner in keeping with its total demand and securing livelihood of the future generations”, an official statement said.

The resolution reads: “Punjab does not have surplus water and is facing a threat of desertification with declining availability of its river water and fast depleting groundwater. The state’s groundwater that meets 73 per cent of its irrigation requirements has declined to alarming levels, threatening the livelihood of farmers and other poor people.

“In such a situation, it is unanimously resolved that the government of India should ensure that Punjab river water is not in any way transferred from basin to non-basin areas of three rivers, namely the Ravi, the Sutlej and the Beas as per internationally accepted riparian principle.”

“Further, alternatives should be ascertained, including amendments to the proposed Inter State River Water Disputes Act to set up a new tribunal for a complete de novo assessment of availability of river waters before final decision, to harness, develop and provide adequate water to Punjab in a just and equitable manner in keeping with its total demand and securing livelihood of the future generations,” it adds.

The resolution was moved by Cabinet Minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria at the all-party meeting convened by the Chief Minister to ascertain ways to address the state’s continuously aggravating water crisis.

Though the resolution did not mention Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal, leaders of all political parties, including the Akali Dal and the AAP, termed any move to construct the canal fatal for the state.

All the parties hailed the Chief Minister’s initiative in convening the meeting on the critical issue.

The Chief Minister later welcomed the positive and constructive suggestions given by leaders of all the parties and said his government would seek time from the Prime Minister to take an all-party delegation to represent Punjab’s case.

The internationally accepted riparian principles had been ignored in the distribution of water in India, he said, stressing the need to correct them.

The Chief Minister also announced that his government would hold such all-party meetings every six months to discuss important issues related to the state.

Terming the water problem a vital issue of concern to the whole of Punjab, and not just to his government or the Congress party, the Chief Minister, at the outset, set the tone for the meeting by pointing out that water had emerged as a global issue in view of the climate change and melting glaciers.

The meeting, he said, was convened to discuss the issue threadbare and arrive at a consensus to facilitate the formulation of a cohesive and long-term policy.

Expressing concern over the depleting ground water table, the Chief Minister observed that the level in Punjab rivers had reduced from 17 million acre-feet (MAF), as listed by the Eradi Commission, to less than 13 MAF now.

His government, said the Chief Minister, had been pressing the Prime Minister to form a fresh commission to assess the current water levels in Punjab’s three rivers.

This was imperative in view of the changed situation, he told the media after the meeting.

Earlier, speaking during the meeting, Leader of Opposition and Aam Aadmi Party leader Harpal Singh Cheema extended full support to the government in promoting diversification of crops to enable water conservation.

The state should file another suit in the Supreme Court seeking fresh assessment of the available water in Punjab and insist on redistribution of water on riparian laws, he said.

The situation in Malwa was particularly bad, he said, citing the growing number of cancer cases resulting from industrial water pollution, especially in Budha Nalla, he added.

Shiromani Akali Dal’s Balwinder Singh Bhunder said the parties should not indulge in blame games but unite to protect state’s water resource.

Terming SYL a major issue, he said apart from legal remedies, it was important also to pursue the matter politically.

Extending his party’s support to any steps taken by the Amarinder government to tackle the crisis, he said reassessment of the water levels in rivers was imperative.

In his concluding remarks, Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar urged all parties to show collective will, leaving their egos aside in order to save Punjab.

–IANS

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