Punjab, Haryana back to sparring over Chandigarh, river water sharing

Chandigarh, the city a symbol of post-Independence and modern India, and planned by the famous French architect Le Corbusier is once again a political flashpoint between two neighbouring states — Punjab and Haryana — first over the claim to the joint capital Chandigarh and second over sharing of river waters.

The latest cause of provocation is the BJP-led Union government decision that the city employees will get salaries and emoluments on a par with the central government.

Cutting across the party lines, the legislative Assemblies of AAP-ruled Punjab and BJP-ruled Haryana this month adopted unanimous resolutions separately to stake its legitimate claim over the Union Territory of Chandigarh, a five-decade-old political tussle over the capital.

Interestingly, the BJP and the Congress in both the states have demanded Chandigarh, known as the City Beautiful, be transferred to the state.

In the war of words, Haryana has enlarged the capital tussle by reviving its two contentious demands — language and its share of river waters.

It has been insisting that Chandigarh can be given to Punjab only if Punjab agrees to give its Hindi-speaking Fazilka-Abohar areas to Haryana as compensation.

Also Haryana seeks its constitutionally established right over Punjab to share waters of the Ravi and Beas rivers with the construction of the Satluj-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal.

Chandigarh’s Capitol Complex buildings comprise the Secretariat complex, the legislative assembly complex and the high court Complex, shared by both Punjab and Haryana.

“The right of Haryana to share waters Ravi and Beas rivers by the construction of the SYL Canal is historically, legally, judicially and constitutionally established over time. The august House has unanimously on at least seven occasions passed resolutions urging the early completion of the SYL canal,” reads an assembly resolution adopted by the Haryana assembly led by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar on April 5.

Four days ahead of this resolution, the Punjab Assembly adopted the resolution, moved by the leader of the House and Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, urging the Centre to transfer Chandigarh to Punjab.

The House also implored the Central government to honour the principles of federalism enshrined in the Constitution and not to take any steps which may disturb the balance in the administration of Chandigarh and that of other common assets like the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB).

Joining the war of one-upmanship, the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation headed by the BJP announced to allow the city to remain a Union Territory and asked Punjab and Haryana to have its own capital cities.

Officials told IANS one of the most contentious moves that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for the time being has ‘deliberately’ kept under wraps is appointing an independent administrator for Chandigarh that would end a 37-year-old system of the Punjab Governor also controlling Chandigarh as Administrator.

The BJP-led NDA government in 2016 decided to appoint Kerala BJP leader and former bureaucrat K.J. Alphons as the Administrator of the union territory but decided against it following apprehensions expressed by Punjab’s ruling and BJP’s coalition partner Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).

At that time Punjab Congress president Capt Amarinder Singh termed it a blatantly unjust move aimed at snatching away Chandigarh from Punjab and an attempt to deliberately weaken Punjab’s claim over Chandigarh.

Then Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal had said, “Punjab will never allow its legitimate right over the capital and other Punjabi speaking areas to be compromised or diluted.”

Interestingly, the passing of the latest resolution in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha is not the first such one.

Earlier six resolutions were passed in the Assembly.

The first one dates back to May 18, 1967, and that was a non-official resolution moved by Acharya Prithvi Singh Azad, who sought inclusion of Chandigarh in Punjab. The resolution was carried.

The previous one before the latest was on December 23, 2014. It was also a non-official resolution for transfer of Chandigarh and other Punjabi-speaking areas to Punjab. The resolution was agreed by everyone.

The latest provocation over Punjab’s claim on Chandigarh is the visit of Union Home Minister Amit Shah to Chandigarh on March 27 where he announced that the Centre would notify Central Service Rules for employees in the Union Territory instead of the Punjab Service Rules. A day later the rules were notified.

The Centre had earlier changed rules for appointments to the BBMB by enabling that the recruitments can be done from anywhere in India, instead of Punjab and Haryana.

The SYL, a proposed 214-kilometre-long canal connecting Sutlej and Yamuna rivers, has been a contentious issue between Punjab and Haryana over river water sharing for decades. It was planned in 1966 after the state of Haryana was carved out of Punjab.

The Congress government in Punjab had, in 2004, scrapped the water sharing agreements with neighbouring states and refused to give any water to other states, especially Haryana.

The presidential reference was sought after the Punjab Assembly unilaterally passed the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act 2004, categorically stating that it was nullifying all agreements on water sharing and that no more water would be given to Haryana.

The SYL canal, which was planned and major portions of it were even completed in the 1990s at a cost of over Rs 750 crore, is still entangled in a political war. Punjab and Haryana are unwilling to give up their respective stand on the canal issue and sharing of river waters.

Haryana in its latest Assembly resolution urged the Centre not to take any step that would disturb the existing balance till all issues emanating from the reorganisation of Punjab are settled, besides reiterating its claim over Chandigarh.

The House also urged the central government to take measures for the construction of the SYL in compliance with the Supreme Court’s directions.

Responding to the AAP-led Punjab government’s resolution on Chandigarh, Congress two-time Chief Minister and Leader of opposition Bhupinder Singh Hooda told IANS in an interview: “The resolution of the Punjab Assembly signifies nothing. This is a ritualistic tactic of every government in Punjab to divert the attention of their people from the real challenges before them.”

Haryana Chief Minister Khattar has asked his party’s government in the Centre not to take any steps until all concerns related to the Punjab Reorganisation Act were addressed.

He also urged the Centre to prevail upon Punjab to withdraw its case and permit the Hansi Butana Canal to be able to carry waters to deficient areas of Haryana.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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