NEW DELHI/CHANDIGARH (TIP): The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a 2004 Punjab law terminating all water-sharing arrangements with neighbouring states, a ruling that prompted all Congress MLAs to quit even as the SAD-BJP government vowed to defy it.
Punjab Congress president Amarinder Singh resigned from the Lok Sabha shortly after the top court declared as illegal and unconstitutional the legislation scrapping the agreements for sharing excess water of the Beas and Sutlej rivers with several northern states, including Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi.
At the heart of the dispute is the 212-km-long Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal that would bring water from the rivers to the “dry and arid areas” in the southern part of Haryana, which had also moved the top court opposing the 2004 law.
Punjab’s deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal declared that “not a single drop of water will be allowed to be taken out of the state”.
“Whether it be the Union government or (the) Iraqi government or the American government, if anyone comes to snatch our water, we will not let anybody enter Punjab to implement orders against Punjabis,” the deputy chief minister said in Adampur in a hurriedly called press conference.
Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal said in Jalandhar an emergency session of the assembly will be held on November 16 to discuss the fallout of the court verdict.
Badal will also meet President Pranab Mukherjee soon, urging him “not to accept the advice” of the Supreme Court while the SAD will launch a statewide campaign from December 8 to protest the “injustice done to Punjab”. SAD’s partner BJP also said, “Punjab does not have any surplus water to share with any other state.”
Assembly elections are due in the state early next year and opposition parties led by the Congress pounced on the adverse court ruling to attack the SAD-BJP government. Amarinder Singh, whose government had enacted the Termination of River Waters Act in 2004, blamed the Akalis for “bringing the people of Punjab to this pitiable situation, where they face imminent devastation due to acute water scarcity”.
He said Badal and his team “failed to defend Punjab’s stand in the court, leading to such disastrous consequences”.
Earlier, a five-judge bench headed by AR Dave said the Punjab law “cannot be allowed to remain”.
“We are of the view that the Punjab Act cannot be considered to be legal and valid and the state of Punjab can not absolve itself from its duties/liabilities arising out of the agreement in question,” said the bench while responding to a Presidential reference on the validity of the legislation.
The top court’s ruling came in response to a reference made by former President APJ Abdul Kalam on the request of the Centre.
Referring to a 1981 water-sharing agreement, the bench said it had legal sanction after the SC upheld it in 2002.
“Once an arrangement is a binding decree, a party cannot unilaterally act in a manner to nullify the effect of the judgment,” the court said.