Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called a meeting of chief ministers of Punjab and Haryana in an attempt to arrive at an amicable solution to the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal issue, the Supreme Court was informed on Tuesday.After the SC decree on the issue, Haryana CM ML Khattar appealed to Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh to cooperate on the issue.During hearing of the case, senior counsel AK Ganguly told a three-judge Bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra on behalf of Punjab that the Prime Minister had called a meeting of the two chief ministers.As Ganguly made the all-important statement, Attorney General KK Venugopal said he was not aware of it. “I was not informed by the water resources secretary about any such meeting. But if it’s happening, it’s good,” Venugopal told the Bench.
At the outset, the Attorney General explained the background of the case and requested the Bench to give two months to arrive at a negotiated settlement of the vexed problem which was acceptable to both the sides.Venugopal said much of the work on the canal in Haryana had already been completed and it was only the Punjab part that remained pending.“Two of the engineers who went to start the work on the SYL canal in Punjab were shot and killed,” he said.The Bench directed both the states to ensure that there was no agitation on the SYL canal issue during pendency of the case.“How can there be any agitation when the matter is pending before this court?” it wondered.The Bench asked Punjab Advocate General Atul Nanda and Haryana Advocate General Baldev Mahajan to inform the authorities concerned about it during the day.
The direction came after Nanda told the Bench a political party in Haryana was agitating on the issue and preventing vehicles with Punjab numbers from entering Haryana.Rajasthan also demanded that its rights must be safegurded in any settlement between Punjab and Haryana.Represented by senior advocates Shyam Divan and Jagdeep Dhankhar and the state’s Advocate General, Haryana demanded implementation of the decree and construction of the canal.“How long we will have to wait?” Divan asked.Punjab was represented by senior advocates AK Ganguly and RS Suri and the state’s Advocate General Nanda who contended that there were difficulties in implementation of the court’s decree.
Ganguly said the decree was premised on the fact that there was enough water in the river. But now there is not much water flow, making it impossible to give effect to it.But the Bench said, “You first construct the canal, the water issue we will see later.”Ganguly replied: “You are putting the cart before the horse.”“No, you are putting it (the cart before the horse),” the Bench shot back.Noting that all these issues could not be raised at this stage, the Bench made it clear that its decree had to be executed.The court has fixed September 7 as the next date of hearing.
The Manohar Lal Khattar Government had on Monday sought an early hearing of the matter and requested the CJI to set up a new Bench as Justice PC Ghosh who earlier headed the Bench retired in May during summer vacation.On the last date of hearing on April 27, the top court had reiterated that its order for construction of SYL canal must be implemented.“The dignity of the decree passed by this court must be maintained….Whether the matter is settled or not settled, we are not bothered about it…we are bothered about implementation of our order,” a bench headed by Justice Ghose (since retired) had said.The court’s comments had come after Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar told the bench that there had been talks between Punjab and Haryana in the capital on April 20 but the outcome of the negotiations wasn’t known. There had also been meeting of the two chief ministers with the Prime Minister, Kumar had told the bench.
Haryana has maintained that it can’t be made to wait for such a long time for construction of the SYL Canal. Any further delay in execution of the top court’s decree passed in 2002 would lead to people losing faith in the judicial system.On the other hand, Punjab says the decree was not executable and the state required time to argue its case. In February, it told the SC that the canal land returned to the landowners could not be recovered. It wanted a negotiated settlement between the two states with the help of the Centre.The top court had in November 2016 declared the law passed by the Punjab Assembly in 2004 terminating the SYL canal water-sharing agreement with neighbouring states as unconstitutional. It had answered in the negative all four questions referred to it in a Presidential Reference.The SC has repeatedly said it didn’t intend to revisit the facts and issues already adjudicated upon. “To my mind, the decree which has been passed has to be executed. A decree passed by the Supreme Court should not be treated like a paper decree,” Justice Ghose had said.The top court earlier told the Centre, Punjab and Haryana to conclude their talks on the construction of the SYL canal “as soon as it can be”, saying it will decide the matter if negotiations remained unresolved.