10 years and counting: Presidential reference on Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal

Chandigarh, Aug 10 (IANS) A canal that was to link two major rivers in Punjab and Haryana is awaiting a presidential reference for the past over 10 years to decide its fate.

The Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal, that was planned and major portions of it were even completed in the 1990s at a cost of over Rs.750 crore at that time, is entangled in a political and legal quagmire with Punjab and Haryana unwilling to give up their respective stands on the controversial canal issue and sharing of river waters.

“This is one case in the country which has been lying pending for Presidential reference for the last 10 years. Counsel of Haryana have been asked to strongly plead the case in the court of law,” Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said.

The matter, which has been disputed by both the states before the union government and the Supreme Court over the years, had gone for Presidential reference in 2004.

The 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 Haryana government is making efforts for early hearing of the SYL Canal case, which has been lying pending for Presidential reference,” Khattar said.

Haryana’s worry is two-fold — one, the state is not getting its “legitimate” share of water from Punjab and, secondly, Delhi is demanding more water from Haryana.

“Delhi is demanding more water from Haryana due to increasing pressure of population from Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana side. Haryana is ready to give its share of water to Delhi but other states should also contribute to meet the water requirement of Delhi from Sutlej, Beas and Ganga rivers,” Khattar said.

While Sutlej, Beas and Ravi rivers flow through Punjab after coming from the Himachal Pradesh side, Yamuna is the only major river flowing through Haryana after coming from the Uttarakhand side.

The foundation stone of the canal was laid in April 1982 by then prime minister Indira Gandhi.

At that time, terrorism was on the rise in Punjab and the issue became a sensitive one with leaders in Punjab raking up the water-sharing issue. Terrorists gunned down labourers and officials involved in the canal construction to get the project stalled.

Several kilometres of the canal were constructed in Punjab and Haryana but the project never got completed.

“Over the years, the canal has dilapidated. The concrete lining is in shambles and wild growth is there all over. In rainy season, the canal portions get water-logged and become a nuisance for people, especially farmers,” Balbir Singh, a retired engineer who was once associated with the SYL construction, told IANS.

In 2014, the Haryana assembly passed a unanimous resolution seeking the centre’s intervention to resolve the water sharing and SYL issues.

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