The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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States ready for ‘war’ on canal

Chandigarh, Jan. 5: With the Supreme Court’s January 15 deadline on the Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal getting closer, Punjab and Haryana appear ready for a war of words.

Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala has urged the state Opposition to rise above political differences and press for the Centre’s intervention in forcing Punjab to build its share of the canal.

But the Congress and other parties have rejected the call, saying Chautala is not serious.

In Punjab, however, the Shiromani Akali Dal and other radical groups in the Opposition have said they will not hesitate to launch a dharm yudh (holy war) against the construction.

While Haryana is banking on the apex court’s decision, Punjab has engaged eminent lawyers to file two civil writ petitions and a curative petition in the Supreme Court this week.

Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh has condemned Akali president Parkash Singh Badal as “the traitor who bartered away” the interests of Punjab “for the sake of personal gains and never bothered to seriously pursue the SYL case in the Supreme Court when in power”. “Had Badal seriously pursued the case, the situation would have been different now,” he said.

Haryana has emphasised that the state suffered a loss of Rs 8,000 crore — at the rate of Rs 500 crore a year for the last 16 years — because of non-completion of the canal. Haryana has also claimed a loss of 8,00,000 tonnes of grain every year because 7,50,000 acres stay unirrigated.

Punjab’s grouse is that half its districts will go without water if its part of the canal is built. “Most Punjab districts will become deserts if the canal begins ferrying the Ravi-Beas waters to southern Haryana,” Singh said.

The canal dispute started in 1960 when India and Pakistan signed the Indus Waters Treaty, reserving the waters of Ravi, Beas and Sutlej rivers for India. Six years later, when Punjab was reorganised into two, the new state of Haryana claimed its share of the waters.

The issue took an ugly turn when Akali politicians, who considered the struggle against the canal a dharm yudh, said Punjab was being robbed of its waters.

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s Punjab accord of July 1985 with Akali leader Harchand Singh Longowal agreed to set up a tribunal led by a retired Supreme Court judge.

The accord stated that the canal would be completed by August 15, 1986, allowing Haryana and other downstream states to use whatever share the tribunal would allot them. The only caveat was that Punjab farmers would get no less than their current usage levels.

After Justice V. Balakrishna Eradi began the hearings, Punjab’s Surjit Singh Barnala government resumed the canal construction.

In July 1988, Justice Eradi adjourned the tribunal because of terrorist violence in Punjab. The hearings resumed in November 1997 on Supreme Court orders. But the two BJP allies, Badal and Bansi Lal of Haryana, clashed again on the canal construction and the quantum of water to be shared.

When Chautala came to power in Haryana, his government filed a petition in the apex court seeking directions to Punjab to complete the canal.

The apex court directed Punjab in last January to build the canal by January 15, 2003. It also ordered the Centre to step in if Punjab failed to do so.

“No chief minister is likely to take his political life into his own hands by starting work on the canal,” a senior Akali leader said. “The water level in the state is going down by feet every year. We are ready to give blood but not water.”

Amarinder Singh’s letter yesterday to the Prime Minister, saying the canal’s completion is linked to the transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab along with the readjustment of both states’ boundaries is expected to add to the trouble.

Amarinder Singh’s contention that Punjab was devoid of Yamuna waters in 1994 may also generate a bitter debate between the two states.

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