The Supreme Court on Thursday urged Haryana and Punjab to have a “give and take” approach in resolving the logjam over construction of Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal while reminding the central government to continue playing a “proactive role” for arriving at a solution to the water dispute.
The observation by the court came after the Centre, mediating the dispute between the two states, informed the apex court that talks between the two states are stuck and are not moving forward as the two sides are unwilling to give up on their stated positions. Terming the issue “complex” that can only be resolved through talks, the bench granted further time till October.
The top court bench headed by justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul said, “We only once again emphasize that any settlement requires parties to move from their stated position and there has to be a give and take.”
Posting the matter for October 4, the bench, also comprising justices Ahsanuddin Amanullah and Aravind Kumar said, “We are giving a long rope so as to see there is an adjudication some way. These are very complex issues having ramifications extending beyond the country.”
With the court having tasked the Centre to negotiate a solution between the two states by an order of September last year, the bench said, “We expect the endeavours of the states to sit together to still find a solution is the way forward and we call upon the states to hold meetings, not frequently, at the highest political dispensation level so that at least there is some progress in the discussions. We expect the Union of India also to play a proactive role in the endeavour to bridge the gap.”
Attorney general R Venkataramani appearing for Centre told the court that since September, the chief ministers of the two states met thrice but could not arrive at a solution. Haryana government represented by advocate Lokesh Kumar Singhal told the court that Punjab is still relying on the 2004 law titled Punjab Termination of Agreement Act (PTAA) that has been declared to be invalid by the Supreme Court decision of November 2016.
Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi appearing for Punjab told the court that the 2016 decision was an advisory opinion that came on a reference to the Supreme Court by the President of India and the 2004 law still remains operational. Under this law, the state government denotified the land acquired for construction of SYL canal and returned the same to the farmers, who were the original owners.
The bench in its order said, “ We are clear in our view that whatever else may be the defence of the state of Punjab, no reliance is permissible on the aforesaid Act once the reference is answered against it. We, however, record the submissions of the learned counsel for state of Punjab that this is an advisory opinion.”
The bench suggested to Punjab,“Whatever (water) you are giving to Haryana, if you can raise by say 5%, it creates goodwill. Then, there won’t be a logjam.”
An affidavit filed by the central government last week indicated that during the last meeting held on January 4, Punjab was of the view that the water availability in the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej system of rivers has reduced and there is no excess water for sharing with Haryana.
Punjab further highlighted that PTAA 2004 is still in force and as per the Act no additional water, beyond 1.62 MAF (million acre feet), out of Haryana’s share of 3.5 MAF, which is being given to Haryana since the date of enforcement of the Act, shall be continued. Since there is no excess water in Beas and Satluj rivers to be shared with Haryana, Punjab said that the need for construction of SYL canal does not arise.
The water dispute between the two states had come to the Supreme Court in 1996 when Haryana filed a suit against Punjab. In a decree issued on January 15, 2002, the top court ruled in favour of Haryana and directed Punjab to construct the SYL canal within a year. In June 2004, the Court reiterated its earlier decision while dismissing a suit filed by Punjab seeking discharge of its obligation to construct the SYL Canal.
The same year, Punjab passed the PTAA by which it cancelled the agreement with Haryana over SYL. The top court again adjudicated on the dispute and held the Act to be unconstitutional. It said, “One state, which is a party to the litigation or an agreement, cannot unilaterally terminate the agreement or nullify the decree of the highest court of the country. The state of Punjab cannot discharge itself from its obligation which arises from the judgment and decree dated 15 January 2002 and the judgment and order dated 4 January, 2004 of the apex court.”
The court had been trying its best to work out an amicable settlement between the states but has failed to yield any results so far. It was with this view, the court roped in Centre to bring the two states on the drawing table.
The latest affidavit of Centre said, “Even after the best efforts by the Centre, there has been no agreement on the issue of construction of SYL among the two states in the meeting. However, both states agreed to discuss a workable solution on the issue in future. The Ministry of Jal Shakti is making all efforts to bring the states together for an amicable solution.”