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KEY TAKEWAYS 

Indian states of Punjab and Haryana have been over the dispute of Sutlej River Canal since 1966. 

Punjab refused to share water with Haryana, claiming that it would violate the riparian principle

Both state governments voluntarily agreed to a water sharing arrangement in 1981.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi officially inaugurated the work on the SYL canal on April 8, 1982

Akalis started a protest for the water dispute called the Kapoori Morcha.

Harchand Singh Longowal and then-prime minister Rajiv Gandhi met in July 1985, they inked an agreement establishing a special tribunal to judge the water.

On 2016, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case and declared the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act 2004 to be illegitimate in November of the same year. 

On 6th of September,2022, the bench observed that natural resources have to be shared

INTRODUCTION

Someone once predicted that the third World War will result from water sharing. Despite the fact that water is a natural resource and should be accessible to everybody, we cannot help but notice the numerous states and nations that have been engaged in constant conflict over it. In this article, we will discuss a similar disagreement that has existed between the Indian states of Punjab and Haryana since 1966 over the Sutlej River.

BACKGROUND 

Everything dates all the way back to 1960, when Pakistan and India signed the Indus Water Treaty. The agreement permitted India to use the rivers Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej without any restriction. 

The issue of the allocation of river waters between the states was first raised on November 1st, 1966, when the state was split into Punjab and Haryana. While the government planned to share water with Haryana from the Sutlej River and its tributary, the Beas River,by connecting the river to Yamuna through a canal (SYL Canal).

Punjab refused to share water with Haryana, claiming that doing so would violate the riparian principle, which stipulates that water from a river solely belongs to the state or nations through which it flows.

In 1976, a decade after the reorganisation of Punjab, the Centre issued a notification that both the states will receive 3.5 million acre-feet (MAF) of water each.

In "general national interest and for best use of the resources," Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan reached an agreement on December 31, 1981, to reallocate the waters of the Ravi and Beas. After a revaluation, it was determined that the water flowing down the Beas and Ravi was approximately at 17.17 MAF. By arrangement of the three states, 4.22 MAF of this were given to Punjab, 3.5 MAF to Haryana, and 8.6 MAF to Rajasthan.

Both state governments voluntarily agreed to a water sharing arrangement in 1981. In Kapoori village, Patiala district, then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi officially inaugurated the  work on the SYL canal on April 8, 1982. A 214-kilometer canal was designed, of which 122 km would pass Punjab and 92 km would cross Haryana. 

Soon after, the Akalis started a protest against the canal's construction called the Kapoori Morcha. Agitations, protests, and assassinations were committed in retaliation, creating an extremism climate in the country and raising the question of national security.

Rajiv Gandhi’s  and Harchand Singh Longowal’s agreement 

When then-SAD leader Harchand Singh Longowal and then-prime minister Rajiv Gandhi met in July 1985, they inked an agreement establishing a special tribunal to judge the water. Judge V Balakrishna Eradi of the Supreme Court established the Eradi Tribunal. According to reports, in 1987 it suggested raising the shares of Punjab and Haryana to 5 MAF and 3.83 MAF, respectively.

However, Punjab experienced an increase in militancy, and the canal project became divisive. Less than a month after signing the agreement, in August 1985, Longowal was assassinated by militants. Avtar Singh Aulakh, a supervising engineer, and head engineer M. L. Sekhri were were assassinated by terrorists in 1990. Numerous construction workers were shot and killed. In the 1990s, the SYL canal's development was halted due to the rising unrest. Over 750 crore rupees were spent on building a sizable portion of it.

The Supreme Court steps in

Punjab was instructed to continue working on the SYL and finish it within a year by the Supreme Court (SC) in 2002. State petitioned for a review of the SC order, which was denied, yet refused to comply. 

The Central Public Works Department was designated in 2004 to take over the canal construction from the Punjab government, per instructions issued by the top court. The state, however, persisted in showing its defiance. 

The Punjab Termination of Agreements Act of 2004 was approved by the Punjab Legislative Assembly, nullifying all of the state's river water agreements with neighbouring states. In the same year, then-President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam forwarded this Bill to the Supreme Court for review of its validity.

On 2016, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case. It declared the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act 2004 to be illegitimate in November of the same year. 

Punjab, however, made the decision to denotify 5,376 acres of land that had been purchased for the canal and give it back to the original owners for nothing. 

The Supreme Court (SC) remained steadfast in its earlier ruling that the SYL's construction must proceed, and in February 2017 it commanded Haryana and Punjab to uphold law and order "at any cost."

Punjab’s arguments 

According to a state government research, several sections of Punjab would experience dry conditions by 2029. Since the state grows wheat and paddy worth Rs 70,000 crore annually to fill the granaries of the Center, it has already overused its groundwater for irrigation purposes. 

Punjab claims that because to the severe circumstances, it is unable to share water.

Haryana’s argument 

Haryana feels that it has not received the water that is legally due to it. It claims that the state has difficulty delivering irrigation. There was a drinking water shortage in southern Haryana, where groundwater levels had dropped by much as 1,700 feet.

CURRENTLY 

The reacent situation for the conflict is that on 28th ,2020 the court asked the had asked the Chief Ministers of both states to make an attempt to resolve the issue amicably. The Ministry had earlier held several meetings which were attended by Chief Secretaries of the two states but remained inconclusive.

On the most recent hearing which was on 6th of September,2022, the bench observed that natural resources have to be shared, and stated that “Water is a natural resource and living beings must learn to share it, whether it is individual or state. The matter cannot be looked at from the point of view of only one city or state. It’s the natural wealth to be shared and how it is to be shared is a mechanism to be worked out.”

CONCLUSION 

After numerous human lives were lost and hundreds of millions of dollars were wasted in the dispute, it is just unfair to the citizens of both states to keep waiting for a resolution for more than fifty years. Water is definitely a highly precious resource, however on the scale with time, the later wins.
 


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