NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered status quo on land acquired for the construction of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal’s stretch in Punjab and appointed “receivers” in the dispute between Punjab and Haryana and sought a report from them by December 15 on the present status of land.
A bench comprising justices P C Ghose and Amitava Roy, however, made it clear that the Union Home Secretary, Chief Secretary of Punjab and the Director General of Punjab Police, who have been made receivers, will not be taking over the possession of the land meant for the SYL canal project. They have been made receivers only for the purposes of submitting a report on the ground situation.
Earlier this month, a five-judge Constitution Bench had set aside the Punjab Termination of Agreement Act, 2004, which unilaterally terminated the 1981 water-sharing pact with Haryana.
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for Haryana, said that the Punjab government had recently decided to denotify the land acquired for the SYL canal project with immediate effect and return them to the owners free of charge. The bench issued notice to Punjab on the plea of Haryana seeking enforcement of the apex court verdict and asked it to appoint receivers to ensure that the project land in Punjab remained intact. Senior lawyers Ram Jethmalani and Harish Salve represented Punjab and termed the dispute as very sensitive which can be resolved only through government-to-government initiatives.
Earlier, the apex court had agreed to hear the Haryana’s plea alleging Punjab was violating its earlier interim order that the status quo on land meant for the SYL canal be maintained.
The controversial 1981 water-sharing agreement came into being after Haryana was carved out of Punjab in 1966. For effective allocation of water, the SYL canal link was conceptualised and both the states were required to construct their portions in their territory. Haryana has constructed the portion of the SYL canal in its territory.
However, after initial work, Punjab stopped it leading to a spate of litigations. In 2004, the Congress government came out with the Punjab Termination of Agreement Act with an intention to terminate the 1981 agreement and other pacts relating to sharing of waters of rivers Ravi and Beas.