Chandigarh, 12 November 2016. The Punjab government is likely to bring a new bill on the inter-state water dispute in a move that could complicate the legal tussle with Haryana over sharing of water from the Beas and Sutlej rivers, official sources said on Friday.
The SAD-BJP government led by Parkash Singh Badal asked President Pranab Mukherjee to ignore the Supreme Court’s terming as “unconstitutional” a 2004 state law that scrapped all water-sharing arrangements between Punjab and its neighbouring states, including Haryana.
The dispute is likely to become a major issue with the opposition Congress turning the heat on the Badal government ahead of next year’s assembly polls.
On Friday, all 42 Congress legislators resigned from the assembly, a day after the party’s state president Amarinder Singh quit as a Lok Sabha MP to protest the court ruling.
Singh’s government had enacted Punjab’s Termination of Agreements Act to stop work on the 212-km-long Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal. Haryana, which is banking on the canal to bring water from the rivers to the state’s “dry and arid areas”, had moved the top court opposing the law.
Punjab government sources said the fresh bill was likely to be introduced at a special session of the assembly, convened on November 16 to discuss the verdict.
The Badal government has vowed not to “allow a single drop of water” to be taken from Punjab.
Sources said the government has tasked advocate general Ashok Aggarwal and other top legal eagles to put in place a legal strategy to hit-back politically and stay ahead of the Congress, which has blamed the ruling alliance of failing to protect Punjab’s interest in court.
“The Supreme Court’s judicial reference is not a binding on President who may accept, reject or send (it) back to Supreme Court for fresh opinion. Punjab government has set up a team of lawyers, including me, to examine the advisory. We will be able to give our viewpoint by Saturday,” Aggarwal said.
Government sources say at the heart of the move to bring a fresh bill is to go beyond the 2004 law.
“The Constitution clearly forbids the Centre from arrogating to itself the right to adjudicate on distribution of river waters among states. Grave injustice has been done to Punjab by the Centre, violating this Constitutional clause,” CM Badal said in his letter to the President.
Earlier in the day, the Congress announced a statewide agitation from November 13, with a public rally at a village in south west Punjab.
“This area would become a desert in case water flows into SYL, taking water from Punjab into Haryana,” Amarinder Singh said.
With tension rising, Haryana suspended state-run buses to Punjab citing security reasons.
“It is a precautionary measure in view of the prevailing situation,” said Haryana additional chief secretary, transport, Sudeep Singh Dhillon.
Though the transport department claimed that only long-route operations have been temporarily stopped, some depots have stopped plying buses even on short routes.
Some Haryana leaders and khaps have threatened not to allow vehicles from Punjab to pass through the state if the Badal government does not accept the court verdict.