SC asks Centre to actively pursue mediation process to resolve SYL canal dispute

The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Centre to survey the portion of land in Punjab which was allocated for construction of part of the Satluj-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal in the state and make an estimate about the extent of construction carried out there.

A bench headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul also asked the central government to actively pursue the mediation process to resolve the festering dispute between Punjab and Harayana over the construction of the canal.

The SYL canal was conceptualised for effective allocation of water from the Ravi and Beas rivers. The project envisaged a 214-km canal, of which 122 km was to be constructed in Punjab and 92 km in Haryana. Haryana has completed the project in its territory but Punjab, which launched the construction work in 1982, later shelved it.

“We would like the Union of India to survey the portion of the land of Punjab allocated for the project to ensure that the land is protected .,” said the bench, also comprising Justices C T Ravikumar and Sudhanshu Dhulia.

“In the meantime, the mediation process should be actively pursued by the Central government,” it said.

The bench observed that the matter is at an execution stage.

“The decree stands. Therefore, you will have to take some steps,” the bench told the counsel representing Punjab.

The dispute between the two states has been lingering on for decades. The top court had on January 15, 2002 ruled in favour of Haryana in a suit filed by it in 1996 and directed the Punjab government to construct its portion of the SYL canal.

The apex court has passed several orders in the matter since then, including a verdict by a five-judge constitution bench that said Punjab has to comply with its earlier verdict and held as unconstitutional the Punjab Termination of Agreement Act (PTAA), 2004. The constitution bench pronounced the verdict on a 2004 presidential reference.

The PTAA discharged the government of Punjab from its obligations under all agreements related to the waters of Ravi and Beas rivers. A presidential reference was filed by the Union of India on July 22, 2004 seeking the opinion of the Supreme Court on the constitutional validity of PTAA. The SC held that the Act cannot be said to be in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of India.

On Wednesday, senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for Haryana, said the issue relates to construction of the canal and Haryana has completed its part of the work.

“Someway, this is a perennial problem in different states. Wherever there is a shortage, the problem will arise,” the bench observed.

The bench told the counsel appearing for Punjab to find out a solution otherwise the apex court will have to do something in the matter.

“Don’t give us solution for 20 years down the line that this will come up and that will come up. You have to find a solution today,” it said.

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“We are concerned with the execution of a decree for construction of the SYL canal in the Punjab portion as Haryana has already constructed the canal,” it said, and posted the matter for hearing in January next year.

While hearing it in March, the apex court had told the Centre that being the main arbiter in the water dispute between the two states, it was required to play a more “proactive role instead of being a mute spectator” and asked the Punjab and Haryana governments to hold discussions to resolve the SYL canal dispute.

During the hearing, the Punjab government had told the top court that the state was facing a huge scarcity, with water tables going down in the rivers. It asserted there was “no point building canals like a Taj Mahal”, with no water flowing through it.

The Haryana government, on the other hand, had said its people needed water that comes from Punjab, which has to abide by the decree for construction of a canal in its jurisdictional area.

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