CHANDIGARH: The Punjab Assembly on Wednesday passed a resolution seeking royalties for river water supplied to its non-riparian neighbours Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi. It urged the government of Parkash Singh Badal to seek the help of the Union government in extracting the dues.
The demand for royalties for river waters adds another dimension to the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal dispute between Punjab and several of its neighbours. The state has already adopted a hostile stance towards this week’s Supreme Court advice to the President that Punjab had indeed been acting unconstitutionally in scrapping all its previous pledges under the SYL project.
The Assembly’s stance that royalties would have to be paid for the Sutlej river waters it supplied to its neighbours since 1966 is likely to raise the stakes much higher.
Moving the resolution in the special session, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Madan Mohan Mittal said seeking royalties for river waters was not anything new. Punjab has in the past demanded and received them. The erstwhile riyasats of Bikaner, Patiala, Nabha and Jind paid such royalties till 1945-46 for using Sutlej waters. A law mandating such riparian royalties was in place during the British Raj since 1873.
The resolution, passed unanimously, asked the Badal government to seek New Delhi’s help to recover water dues from Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi since November 11, 1966.
Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal moved another resolution directing the state government not to do three things: (a) handing over any land to any agency for construction of the SYL canal; (b) allowing any agency to do any work on the project; (c) cooperating with any agency for the construction of the canal.
Speaking during the special session, Badal repeated the same oaths he has been uttering since the Supreme Court verdict, “I would rather shed every drop of my blood than allow even a single drop of water to flow out of my state.”
The resolution reads, “Whereas Punjab has legislative and executive right over the whole land falling under its boundaries as per the entry number 14 and 18 of the state list of the seventh schedule of the Constitution of India.”
The house also took notice of the fact that Punjab needs 56 million acre feet (MAF) of water for agriculture, out of which river waters account for only 27 per cent. The Central Ground Water Commission has already declared 105 of the 138 blocks in Punjab as over-exploited.
Akali Dal MLA Nirmal Singh said Rajasthan owed Punjab `80,000 crore as the royalty for using its waters. Independent MLA Simarjit Singh Bains put this figure at `15.34 lakh crore.
Adding some more drama to the proceedings, the Bains brothers (S S Bains and Balwinder Bains from Ludhiana) and rebel Akali Dal MLA Pargat Singh announced their resignations on the floor of the Assembly and marched to the well of the House to hand the papers to the speaker.
The speaker, however, refused to accept them and asked them to tender them in his office.
With the 42 MLAs of the Congress absent — they have resigned — Chief Minister Badal indulged in some unchallenged Congress bashing. He accused the party of doublespeak: they were shedding crocodile tears over the Supreme Court verdict but stayed away from arguing Punjab’s case in the Assembly.
State Congress president Capt Amarinder Singh ridiculed the two resolutions passed by special session. He said, “Punjab simply cannot give water to its non-riparian neighbours at any cost.”