At a special one-day session earlier this month, the Punjab Assembly passed a resolutionafter the Centre notified Central Service Rules for employees in the Union Territory instead of the Punjab Service Rules.
This caused a longstanding dispute between Punjab and Haryana over Chandigarh to flare up. The Haryana Vidhan Sabha responded a few days later by passing a resolution seeking the completion of the Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal, bringing back into focus the dispute between the two states on sharing river waters.
The AAP that is looking to expand in Haryana on the back of its electoral victory in Punjab is now caught in a bind as it faces criticism from opponents in Haryana over the Punjab resolution on Chandigarh. To mitigate some of the fallout, the party leader in charge of the state, Rajya Sabha MP Sushil Gupta, on Tuesday said it was a “guarantee” that the water from the SYL canal would reach the state’s fields in 2025 if the party got voted to power in the 2024 Assembly polls.
Gupta put the blame for the dispute squarely on the Congress and the. “During this period (since Haryana was formed), the Congress was in power several times at the Centre, in Punjab, and in Haryana. And several times, at the Centre, in Haryana and Punjab, the BJP remained in power. They do not want to resolve this issue. They want to sustain it so that they can play vote-bank politics. We have formed the government in Punjab and in 2024 we are going to form the government in Haryana. In 2025, the water (of SYL) will reach every field of Haryana. This is not our promise but a guarantee.”
Lashing out at the-led party, Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leader and former Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala’s son Abhay Chautala said, “The AAP stands cornered on the issue of Chandigarh. In Haryana, the SYL is the biggest issue and the AAP has a government in Punjab. The people of Haryana say that first they (the AAP government in Punjab) should give our share of water and only then should they trust the AAP. As per the report of the Shah Commission, Chandigarh belongs to Haryana and the resolution passed by the AAP-led government in Punjab Assembly should be withdrawn.”
State Home Minister Anil Vij of the BJP said the AAP should have thought of the link between the SYL Canal and the Chandigarh issue before introducing the House resolution. “SYL is our right,” said Vij. “A new government has been formed in Punjab, as soon as after their formation they demanded their claim on Chandigarh. They should know that the issue of Chandigarh is interconnected with SYL.”
The dispute dates back to 1966 at the time of the reorganisation of Punjab and the formation of Haryana. Punjab was opposed to sharing the waters of the Ravi and the Beas with Haryana, citing riparian principles. The construction of the canal was launched on April 8, 1982, by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi from Kapoori village in Patiala district. But the Akalis began a campaign against its construction, and in July 1985 Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and then Akali Dal chief Sant Harchand Singh Longowal signed an accord agreeing to a new tribunal to assess the water. Haryana has been staking claim to the Ravi-Beas waters through the SYL Canal saying that providing water for irrigation was a tough task for the state. But Punjab refuses to part with it as, according to a state government study, many of its areas may go dry after 2029.
In 2016, the Supreme Court gave a verdict in favour of Haryana that had challenged the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004, under which Punjab had cancelled its agreements with neighbouring states over the sharing of the Ravi-Beas waters. At the time, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar expressed hope that the judgment would pave the way for the state to receive its share of water, but political leaders in Punjab insist that the state does not have surplus water to spare.
Former Panjab University professor Manjeet Singh, who is currently part of the Sanyukt Samaj Morcha (SSM) formed by farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal, accused the AAP of speaking the “BJP’s language’s on emotional issues such SYL Canal and the status of Chandigarh.
“Like other political parties, Arvind Kejriwal has also opted for the same tactic. As per this tactic, the AAP’s Punjab unit will speak in the favour of Punjab and the party’s leaders who have been allotted Haryana, like Sushil Gupta, will speak in the favour of Haryana so that the people (of both states) keep fighting and their politics keep shining,” said Singh. “Such statements affect the brotherhood of people of both states. The farmers of both states came closer to each other during the recent farmers’ agitation. They do not want people of the two states to stand with each other.”