The meeting of the Punjab and Haryana Chief Ministers, convened by Union Minister of Jal Shakti Gajendra Singh Shekhawat here today to find a way forward for the construction of the contentious Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal, was inconclusive.
The meeting saw Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann vehemently declining to share its river waters, citing unavailability of water as well as land for the construction of the canal. Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, for the first time, sought additional water for Rajasthan, besides asking for early construction of the canal in Punjab and its share of the river waters.
Today’s meeting was held on the directive of the Supreme Court of India, which has asked the Centre to intervene and try and find a solution to the four-decade-old river dispute. The case will come up for hearing on January 9, 2024. This was the third meeting of the CMs of the two states convened by the Centre to try and amicably resolve the issue. The earlier two meetings — on January 4 this year and August 18, 2020 —- had also remained inconclusive.
At the meeting, the Punjab CM suggested alternatives to the construction of the SYL. He reportedly sought a review of the Indus River Water Treaty, 1960, “so that 6 million acre feet (MAF) water from the Chenab is given to Punjab and Haryana, as also established by the Balakrishna Eradi tribunal in 1987”.
After the meeting, Mann said, “The Sutlej is no longer a river, it has become a drain. If we have to provide water to irrigate the state’s farmlands, we need 54 MAF water. But what is available to us is 14 MAF. Moreover, when the Sutlej was overflowing earlier this year because of floods, Haryana refused to accept more water. Why does it need it now?” he asked.
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said the Bhakra mainline was ageing and thus there was a need to construct the SYL to ensure uninterrupted flow of water in the event of any obstruction in the mainline. “We are not getting our legitimate share of water, sufficient water is not reaching south Haryana and the Aravalli region. If Punjab constructs the SYL, it does not mean we will forcibly take away water. Meeting manohar mahaul mein hui, par Maan hain ki maante nahin,” he quipped. He also rued that while the Punjab CM was ready to allow the excess water to flow to Pakistan, he was not willing to share it with Haryana.
While Khattar said they were only pressing for the construction of the canal and not water distribution, Mann said the construction of the canal alone was not the issue, what would flow in the canal was important.