SC strikes down Punjab law that terminated river water sharing agreement with states

RSTV Bureau

In a major set-back to the Punjab government, Supreme Court held as unconstitutional the 2004 law passed by it 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 AR Dave said, while pronouncing its decision on the presidential reference received by it.

The judgement pronounced on Thursday said 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.

Following the judgement by the top court, Congress state unit chief Capt Amarinder Singh quit his Lok Sabha seat, while Congress MLAs resigned en masse from Punjab Assembly.

The bench, which also included Justices PC Ghose, Shiva Kirti Singh, AK Goel and Amitava Roy, was unanimous in holding that all the five questions of Presidential reference have to be answered in the negative.

The 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.

The act was brought by the then Congress-ruled state government, led by Capt Amarinder Singh, seeking to nullify the SC verdict by stopping the construction of the remaining part of the SYL canal.

During the course of hearing in the matter, the Centre had maintained a neutral stand, while the court recorded the stands of other states — Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir.

Meanwhile, the incumbent Parkash Singh Badal government had submitted that a fresh tribunal be set up to resolve all disputes with other states including Haryana on all aspects, which will also cover the riparian rights and the dwindling flow of water.

It had said a fresh tribunal was sought in 2003, about 18 months before the 2004 law, to review the 1981 Longowal Accord on river water-sharing in view of depleting flow and other changed circumstances. The water-sharing agreement was among Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Chandigarh and Jammu and Kashmir.

On Haryana’s demand, Punjab had said that after its creation in 1966, it had become a riparian state of the Yamuna and was getting its share. At the same time, it had lost its riparian rights after it was carved out of Punjab.

(With inputs from the PTI)