n Transcending political barriers, Punjab’s all prominent parties — Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), besides others — come together on one platform on Thursday with the sole aim of saving Punjab waters.
During the all-party meeting convened by the Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, all political fronts unanimously demanded reassessment of the state’s water availability and resolved that the Centre should ensure that Punjab’s river water is not in any way transferred from basin to non-basin areas of the state’s three rivers.
Expressing concern over the state’s critical water situation, all parties also unanimously demanded suitable amendments to the proposed Inter-State River Water Disputes Act to set up a new tribunal, besides ensuring that Punjab gets adequate water “in a just and equitable manner in keeping with its total demand and securing livelihood of the future generations”.
“Punjab does not have surplus water and is facing a threat of desertification with declining availability of its river water and fast depleting groundwater. The state’s groundwater that meets 73 percent of its irrigation requirements, has declined to alarming levels, threatening the livelihood of farmers,” the resolution read.
It added, “In such a situation, it is unanimously resolved that the Government of India should ensure that Punjab river water is not in any way transferred from basin to non-basin areas of the Ravi, Sutlej and Beas as per the internationally accepted riparian principle.
Further, alternatives should be ascertained, including amendments to the proposed Inter State River Water Disputes Act to set up a new tribunal for a complete assessment of availability of river waters before the decision, to harness, develop and provide adequate water to Punjab in a just and equitable manner in keeping with its total demand and securing livelihood of the future generations.”
The resolution was moved by Water Resources Minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria at an all-party meeting convened by the Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh to ascertain ways to address the state’s continuously aggravating water crisis.
Though the resolution did not mention the Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal, leaders of all political parties, including the SAD and AAP, maintained that any move to construct the controversial canal with Haryana could be fatal for the State.
FILE ANOTHER SUIT IN SC SEEKING FRESH ASSESMENT OF PUNJAB WATER: AAP
Extending full support to the government in promoting crop diversification to enable water conservation, AAP MLA and the Leader of Opposition in Vidhan Sabha Harpal Singh Cheema suggested that Punjab should file another suit in the Supreme Court seeking fresh assessment of the available water in the State. He added that the state should insist on redistribution of water on riparian laws.
“The situation in Malwa is bad,” he said, citing the growing number of cancer cases resulting from industrial water pollution, especially in Buddha Nullah. AAP MLA from Sunam Aman Arora urged the State Government to form a sub-committee of Minister, officers and representatives of all political parties to further work on the vital issue.
BESIDES LEGAL REMEDIES, PURSUE SYL ISSUE POLITICALLY TOO: SAD
Terming Sutlej Yamuna Link Canal (SYL) a major issue, SAD’s senior leader Balwinder Singh Bhundur said that apart from legal remedies, “it is important to pursue the matter politically also”.
Extending SAD’s support to any step taken by the Capt Amarinder government to tackle the crisis, Bhundur said that reassessment of the water levels in Punjab’s rivers was imperative. Also urging all parties not to indulge in blame game, Bhundur said that all parties should unite to protect Punjab’s water resources. Dubbing SYL as “suicidal” for Punjab, SAD’s former Minister Mahesh Inder Singh Grewal endorsed the Chief Minister’s oft repeated warning that it would lead to violence and possible revival of terrorism in the State.
“The Supreme Court should hear a fresh petition and stay its decree on construction of SYL. If the Centre’s fresh legislation for a new tribunal is passed, it would spell disaster for Punjab,” he added. Calling for change in Section 12 of the Inter-State River Water Dispute (Amendment) Bill, 2019, to protect Punjab’s water interests, he underlined the need to put up a united fight on the issue.
SAD senior leader Prem Singh Chandumajra was also of the view that riparian laws need to be followed in water allocation to Punjab.“Nothing short of riparian principle would be acceptable as the basis for a solution to the issue of waters of all three Punjab rivers. The party also demanded the deletion of Clause 5 of the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act-2004 as it violates the Riparian Principle,” he said.
“SAD has made supreme sacrifices and launched major Morchas to secure Punjab’s right on the waters of its rivers on the basis of the Riparian Principle under which non-Riparian State like Rajasthan and Haryana have no right on even a single drop from the waters from Punjab rivers. It is unfortunate that in the past, some parties, notably the Congress opposed the SAD on the issue. But we feel vindicated that today finally, all political parties have accepted the correctness and constitutional and legal soundness of the Akali demand,” he said.
He also expressed satisfaction over “SAD’s success in getting the Chief Minister to agree to convene a special session of Punjab Vidhan Sabha to state that no exception would be made to the Riparian Principle in the final settlement of the River Waters dispute and to consider deletion of Clause 5 from the Punjab Termination of Agreement Act”.
“We wanted the all party meet to reject the Clause 5 of the Punjab Termination of Agreements of Act today itself as it constitutes an exception in so far as it violates the Riparian Principle and should therefore be deleted in the Special Session of the Punjab Legislative Assembly to be called for the purpose.
Although the final resolution of the all party meet did not include our demand for deletion of that Clause, but we were able to get the other parties to agree to consider it during the special session of the Vidhan Sabha. We will insist on its deletion in the special session,” he said adding that AAP did not support our demand for the deletion of this clause.
Chandumajra also urged the Chief Minister to demand royalty for waters already given from Punjab’s rivers to Haryana and Rajasthan. “They have been using our waters against all constitutional and legal norms, precedents and principles. There are strong precedents supporting Punjab’s demand for royalty from Rajasthan and Haryana,” he said.
BREAK WHEAT-PADDY CYCLE, ENSURE DIVERSIFICATION: BJP
Former Minister and senior BJP leader Madan Mohan Mittal stressed on the importance of breaking the paddy-wheat cycle and ensuring diversification, along with regeneration of ground water, to boost the income of Punjab’s farmers, who were reeling under major debts despite their contribution to the nation’s food security.
Mittal, who thanked the Chief Minister for bringing all parties on one platform on the critical issue, also agreed with the State Government’s stand for minimum support price (MSP) support by the Centre for crop diversification.
LEFT PARTIES WANT LONGOWAL ACCORD TO BE FOLLOWED
Left parties, including Communist Party of India (CPI) represented by Bant Brar, and Communist Party-Marxist (CPM) represented by Sukhwinder Singh Sekhon, demanded that the Longowal accord should be followed in the distribution of water. CPM’s Sekhon was of the view that Swaminathan Commission report should be implemented in toto in the interest of the farmers.
STOP FREE POWER FOR TUBEWELLS, PROMOTE RAINWATER HARVESTING: TMC
Trinamool Congress’ Manjit Singh maintained that to prevent water wastage, the State Government should stop giving free power for tubewells, besides promoting rainwater harvesting along with sewage treatment to conserve groundwater. He suggested that the Government should give 100 percent subsidy for construction of composite pits for recharge of water.
TMC leader said that his party was with the State Government on saving water, especially through crop diversification.
BSP’s Jasbir Singh Garhi asserted that Punjab had always been discriminated against by the Central Government, thus denying its due water share.
NCP’s Swaran Singh also batted for the reassessment of water levels to ensure that Punjab is not cheated out of its due.
SHOW COLLECTIVE WILL, LEAVE EGOS TO SAVE PUNJAB: JAKHAR
Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar, in his concluding remarks, urged all parties to show collective will, leaving their egos aside in order to save Punjab. He suggested that an all-party delegation to meet the Prime Minister with a mercy petition, given that people would start dying unless the problem is resolved at the earliest.
“NOT INVITED” BAINS BROTHERS PROTEST OUTSODE VENUE
Not invited for the all-party meeting on water issues, the Lok Insaaf Party’s (LIP) staged a protest dharna outside the venue of the meeting. LIP MLAs Simrajeet Singh Bains and Balwinder Singh Bains, popularly known as Bains Brothers, staged a protest against the State Government, especially the Chief Minister, for not inviting them for the crucial meeting where all other parties, including NCP, BSP, CPI, CPM — which even do not have any MLA — have been invited. Later clarifying, the Chief Minister said that the Bains brothers had not been invited to the meeting as only political parties, recognized by the Election Commission, had been included in the list of invitees.