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SYL canal: Decrees passed by court can't be flouted, warns SC

Decrees passed in the Sutlej- Yamuna Link (SYL) canal dispute between Punjab and Haryana cannot be flouted, the Supreme Court warned today, directing both the states to strictly implement its orders.

“We will not allow the decree passed by this court to be flouted and it has to be implemented. How the decree is being implemented is the headache of the concerned parties,” a bench of justices P C Ghose and Amitava Roy said. The bench, which asked the Centre and Punjab to file their replies to Haryana’s plea seeking compliance of court’s order, said the interim order of status quo will continue.

The apex court said the reports of Union Home Secretary, Chief Secretary of Punjab and Director General of Police of Punjab, who were appointed as court receivers of the land and other properties of the canal, have indicated that status quo has been maintained. However, senior advocate Jagdeep Dhankar, appearing for Haryana, objected to a finding of the Union Home Secretary and said the report says that on site visit by the committee “no deliberate damage” has been done. “I have a problem with the word ‘deliberate’ used in the report,” he said.

Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar appearing for Ministry of Home Affairs said their reply was ready and can be filed in the course of a week. He said that Haryana has not challenged the Punjab Termination of Agreement Act, 2004 and therefore it has not been set aside till now. “The regulations are still there. The effect of apex court’s decree cannot be there unless the Act passed by legislature is nullified,” Kumar said, adding that the answers to Presidential reference fell under the advisory jurisidiction and hence the court has not set aside the Act.

To this, the bench said it will look into the issue when it hears the matter in detail. Senior advocate Ram Jethmalani, appearing for Punjab, said the Centre should intervene among the states involved in the dispute and sort out the issue. “We would file the reply once the Centre has filed its reply on Haryana’s plea. Centre should behave like elder arbitrator and settle the issue once and for all,” Jethmalani said.

The apex court directed the Centre to file its reply during the course of week and Punjab in three weeks and posted the matter for further hearing on February 15. It had on November 30 last year directed status quo on SYL canal and appointed as union home secretary, chief secretary, Punjab and the director general of police, Punjab as Court Receivers of the lands, works, property and portions of the canal. It had asked them to file a report with regard to the ground situation of the property. The three officers were also appointed receivers on March 17 on the plea of Haryana, given powers to take possession of the project land and asked to maintain status quo on the site.

On November 10, the apex court had thwarted Punjab’s attempt to wriggle out of the SYL water sharing pact, saying it cannot “unilaterally” terminate it or legislate to “nullify” the verdict of the highest court. The court had issued notice to Punjab on Haryana’s plea seeking enforcement of apex the court verdicts and appointment of the receivers to ensure that the project land in Punjab remains intact. Earlier, the apex court had agreed to hear the plea of Haryana alleging that Punjab was violating its earlier interim order that the status quo on land meant for Sutlej-Yamuna Link (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, SYL canal link was conceptualised and both the states were required to construct its portions in their territory. Haryana constructed the portion of SYL canal in its territory. However, Punjab after initial work, stopped the work leading to spate of litigations.

In 2004, the Congress government of the state came out with the Punjab Termination of Agreement Act with an intention to terminate the 1981 agreement and all other pacts relating to sharing of waters of rivers Ravi and Beas. The apex court had first decreed the suit of Haryana in 2002 asking Punjab to honour its commitments with regard to water sharing in the case. Punjab challenged the verdict by filing an original suit which was rejected in 2004 by the Supreme Court which asked the Centre to take over the remaining infrastructural work of the SYL canal project.