Upping the ante on its proposed move to start digging the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal on the Punjab-Haryana border on February 23, Haryana’s main opposition party INLD on Monday said that it will go ahead with its threat even if the authorities call the Army to stop them.
“The INLD will start digging of the SYL canal even if the government calls the Army. INLD will not change its decision at any cost. The SYL canal is the lifeline of Haryana and we will fight to get water for the state,” Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) Secretary General Abhay Chautala said in a statement here.
He said that over 6,800 panchayats (village councils) had submitted memorandums to the INLD seeking construction of the SYL canal.
“We will submit these to the Prime Minister and demand immediate construction of the canal. Getting water through the SYL is Haryana’s right and we are not begging for it from anyone,” Chautala, who mobilised support from party workers and public in Sirsa, Fatehabad, Hisar and Jind districts on Monday, said.
Chautala, who is the Leader of Opposition in Haryana, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar led BJP government in the state of not doing anything on the issue despite the Supreme Court ruling favouring Haryana’s stand on the water sharing with Punjab.
“The Chief Minister called an all-party meeting (in November) and it was decided that a delegation of various party leaders will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Despite three months having passed, he (Chief Minister) has not been able to even get an appointment with the Prime Minister,” Chautala said.
Haryana’s Health and Sports Minister Anil Vij dismissed the INLD threat as a “gimmick” and questioned the INLD leader why they did not take such a step when they were in power in the state (between 1999-2005).
With the INLD adamant on starting digging work of the controversial SYL canal, Punjab’s ruling Shiromani Akali Dal and the Congress have already warned parties and leaders in Haryana against any misadventure on this issue.
The Akali Dal had urged political parties from neighbouring Haryana “not to indulge in activities that provoke the people of the Punjab on the SYL issue”.
Chautala has announced that thousands of INLD supporters will march from Ambala in Haryana on February 23 to the Shambhu barrier, on the boundary of Haryana and Punjab, and start digging of the SYL canal.
“The Akali Dal will never let the (SYL) project to be completed as it would deprive the farmers of the Punjab from their own waters. The issue of the SYL is dead, once and for all, as the Punjab Assembly has passed resolutions for restoration of the land acquired for the project,” Akali Dal Secretary and Punjab Education Minister Daljit Singh Cheema had said.
Punjab Congress President Amarinder Singh asked the government at the Centre and in Haryana to take all necessary steps to prevent any violation of Punjab’s borders by the INLD activists.
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The INLD, whose leadership was once close to the Akali Dal in Punjab, had snapped ties last year on the SYL issue.
Refusing to accept a ruling of the Supreme Court given in November last year which held the termination of water sharing agreements as “unconstitutional”, the Punjab government has pitted itself to confront the court verdict.
The Presidential reference was sought after the Punjab Assembly, in 2004 during Congress rule, passed the controversial ‘Punjab Termination of Water Agreements Bill’ to end all water-sharing laws with other states.
Haryana claims to be a water deficit state and has stated that it has been deprived of more than half of its legitimate share of 3.50 million acre feet (MAF) of surplus Ravi-Beas water, which has led to reduction in agriculture production.
Both states are in the midst of a political and legal war over water sharing through the SYL canal, which has remained at the centre of controversy for four decades without a drop of water actually flowing in the canal.
The SYL Canal, that was to link two major rivers (Sutlej and Yamuna) in Punjab and Haryana respectively, was planned and major portions of it were even completed in the 1990s at a cost of over Rs 750 crore at that time.
It is entangled in a political and legal quagmire with Punjab and Haryana unwilling to give up their respective stands.