The over six decade old water dispute between Northern states today assumed a new dimension with the Supreme Court holding as unconstitutional the 2004 law passed by Punjab to terminate the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal water sharing agreement with neighbouring states.
"All the questions have been answered in the negative," a five-judge bench headed by Justice A R Dave said, while pronouncing its decision on the presidential reference received by it. The judgement makes it clear that the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004 is "unconstitutional" and Punjab could not have taken a "unilateral" decision to terminate the water sharing agreement with Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi and Chandigarh.
The bench, which also included Justices P C Ghose, Shiva Kirti Singh, A K Goel and Amitava Roy, was unanimous in holding that all the five questions of Presidential reference have to be answered in the negative.
Today's judgement implies that the 2004 Act was not in consonance with the apex court judgement of 2003 which had mandated the construction of the SYL canal that has been stalled. By the 2004 Act brought by the then Congress government led by Amarinder Singh, the state had sought to nullify the SC verdict by stopping the construction of the remaining part of the SYL canal.
The water dispute between the northern states continues even 61 years after the first agreement signed in 1955 which was followed by a number of agreements, including the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, 1966 Punjab Reorganization Act, the 1981 Indira Gandhi award as also 1985 Rajiv Longowal Accord besides litigations in the Supreme Court, the first one being in 1976 when Punjab took the initiative in approaching the Apex Court.
As per the agreement of 1955, (signed between the states of Punjab, Pepsu, Jammu and Kashmir and Rajasthan) Punjab (including Pepsu) was allocated 7.20 Million Acre Feet (MAF) surplus waters of the Ravi and Beas estimated at 15.85 MAF, based on flow series of 1921-45, excluding pro-partition use.
Rajasthan was allocated 8.0 MAF and Jammu and Kashmir 0.65 MAF.
Haryana was carved out on the reorganization of erstwhile state of Punjab on November 1, 1966. As per Section 78 of the Reorganization Act of 1966, the right to receive and to utilize the waters available for distribution, as a result of the Bhakra Nangal Project and BEAS Project, became the right of the successor states in such proportion as may be made by an agreement entered into by the said states after consultation with the central government.
This Section also provided that if no such agreement was entered into within two years of the appointed day, the Centre may by orders determine the shares of the States having regard to the purpose of the projects. Since the state of Punjab and Haryana could not arrive at any amicable settlement, Government of India by its notification dated March 24, 1976, determined the distribution of waters of Ravi and Beas among the states of Haryana, Punjab and Delhi.
Feature Image Source: PTI