Punjab says hear Haryana’s SYL plea after polls, SC says no

New Delhi, Jan 18 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected the Punjab government’s plea for deferring the hearing on Haryana’s challenge to the de-notification of land acquired for the SYL canal till a new state government was formed after the February 4 Punjab assembly elections.

Directing for the next hearing on February 15, the apex court told Punjab it could not escape the construction of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal as ordered by the court in 2002 and 2004.

A bench of Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Justice Amitava Roy instead asked Punjab to file its response within three weeks to the Haryana government’s plea that challenged Punjab’s November 16 notification to de-notify the land acquired for the SYL construction and restoring the same to the original owners.

The Punjab government issued the notification after the assembly passed a resolution that directed the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party government not to release land for the SYL canal and a subsequent Cabinet decision on the matter.

The court also gave Haryana one week to file its rejoinder to Punjab’s response.

Assembly elections in Punjab will be held along with those in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa. The counting of votes will take place in the five states on March 11.

Haryana told the court that Punjab’s decision to de-notify the land and return it to the original owners was in violation of the Inter-State Water Disputes Act of 1956 and the Punjab Reorganisation Act of 1966.

The bench said Punjab could not escape its responsibility of completing the construction of the SYL canal falling in its territory. The apex court made it clear that it would ensure compliance with its 2002 and 2004 orders.

Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar said the top court’s 2002 and 2004 decrees could be implemented only if the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act of 2004, which was passed by the state assembly, was struck down.

The Centre has not taken any position on the issue, leaving the two feuding states to go ahead with the legal battle.

Appearing for Punjab, senior counsel Ram Jethmalani said the Centre should demonstrate statesmanship by resolving the water sharing dispute.

In a hearing on the matter on November 30, 2016, the court had ordered status quo on the SYL land in Punjab and appointed the Union Home Secretary and Punjab’s Chief Secretary and Director General of Police as receivers.

The court had said that the “status quo, as of today, shall be maintained by the parties, subject to further orders of this court”.

Appointing the receivers for the lands, works, property and portions of the SYL canal stretch falling in Punjab, the court had asked them to file a report on the ground situation on the said property.

The bench was on Wednesday told that there was no deliberate damage to the property, which was contested by Haryana.

On November 10, 2016, the top court’s Constitution Bench had, in its advisory opinion on a Presidential reference, held as unconstitutional the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004.

Following this, the Punjab government de-notified 5,376 acres of land acquired from 4,980 owners for the canal.

On November 16, 2016, the Punjab assembly passed a resolution to direct the state government, its Council of Ministers and government officers and officials not to hand over land to any agency for the canal’s construction.

The assembly resolved that the Punjab government should levy a cost on Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi for the water supplied to non-riparian states over the past many years.

–IANS

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