Punjab’s 2004 law terminating SYL agreement unconstitutional: Supreme Court
In 2004, the Punjab State Legislature had passed the ‘Punjab Termination of Agreement Act’ to escape from the duty of constructing its section of the canal link and sharing river waters with its neighboring states. Seeking legal clarity on the same, a presidential reference was made by the then president, A P J Abdul Kalam. It was taken up for hearing by the Supreme court in March 2016.
The Supreme Court of India held Punjab Government’s 2004 law, terminating the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal water sharing agreement, as unconstitutional.
The court in its judgement made it clear that the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004 is "unconstitutional" and Punjab could not have taken a "unilateral" decision to terminate the water sharing agreement with neighbouring states. Punjab State Legislature had passed the Act to escape from the duty of constructing its section of the canal link and sharing river waters with its neighboring states.
A presidential reference was made regarding the same in 2004 by the then president, A P J Abdul Kalam seeking legal clarity on the sharing of water from the SYL canal between the north Indian states, following which it was taken up for hearing by the Supreme court in March 2016.
Headed by Justice A R Dave, a five-member bench of the apex court including Justice PC Ghose, Justice Shiva Kirti Singh, Justice A K Goel and Justice Amitava Roy unanimously ruled that all the five questions contained in the Presidential reference have been answered in negative.
About the SC Ruling
• The SC rules that Punjab cannot take a ‘unilateral’ decision to terminate the water sharing agreement signed with Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi and Chandigarh.
• The bench further stated that the 2004 Act went against Supreme Court’s 2003 judgement that mandated the construction of the canal.
• Through the act, the then Congress government of Capt Amarinder Singh chose to nullify the Supreme Court ruling and proceeded to halt construction of the canal.
• The bench reserved its verdict on the issue on 12 May 2016 after the central government maintained its earlier neutral stand of 2004 that the states concerned should settle their dispute among themselves.
• The Supreme Court also appointed the Union Home Secretary and Punjab's Chief Secretary and Director-General of Police [DGP] as the 'joint receivers' of land and other property meant for the SYL canal till the final outcome of the judgment.
In 2016, Punjab assembly also sought to pass a bill commanding restoration of land acquired to build the canal link to the farmers completely free of cost. The move was contested by the Haryana Government at the apex court and won a stay of the order.
Post Effects of the Ruling
• Amarinder Singh, under whom this controversial was passed, has sent his resignation to the Lok Sabha Speaker and declared that the MLA’s will also be following suit to protest against the injustice done to the state.
• He demanded imposition of President’s rule in the state, voicing concerns over Badal government’s reaction after the court order.
• Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal said that legal action will be decided after consulting the Advocate General of the state.
• Punjab cabinet has decided not to spare water for any other state in the wake of Supreme Court decision on SYL canal water sharing agreement. It claimed that the state has no spare water and it is the lifeline of Punjab.
• Punjab cabinet has decided to convene a special session of Punjab Assembly on 16 November 2016 to discuss the matter.