Sunday, 8 January 2017

As Assembly Polls Draw Close, the Reactionary Water War Makes it Again to Political Centre Stage in Punjab

-Rajesh Tyagi & Rajinder Kumar/ 8.1.2017

On the eve of the Assembly polls in Punjab, the specter of interstate water dispute, popularly known as SYL (Sutlej Yamuna Link) Dispute, is summoned to life again.

The long drawn SYL water dispute emerges out of the rival claims of the adjoining twin states of Punjab and Haryana, over water sharing from River Sutlej and its tributary rivers Ravi and Beas, flowing inside Punjab. Pursuant to a 50 years old water sharing agreement between the two states, Sutlej was to be linked to river Yamuna in Haryana, through 214 kms long water channel, 122 kms inside Punjab and 92 kms in Haryana, cutting through the two states. Almost complete otherwise, the construction of a small part of the channel inside Punjab, remains for decades, mired into the cobweb of dirty political maneuvers of bourgeois parties and their respective leaders.

For long, the bourgeois politicians in both states have deliberately kept the SYL issue alive and fanned it frequently to serve their own vested interests. These leaders and the parties under them have used its emotive appeal based on the reactionary regional chauvinism with a communal tinge, to bind the masses of the two prosperous twin agricultural states of Punjab and Haryana, behind their narrow agendas.

The bourgeois political parties in both the states have for decades, continued to attempt stealing march over each other, in advancing their contending claims to champion the SYL issue.

Fundamentalist-regionalist Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and rabidly communal Hindu Supremacist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) are running governments at present in Punjab and Haryana, respectively. They are also leading coalition partners in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) ruling at the centre. Speaking in different tongues and often taking conflicting stands in Punjab and Haryana, while catering to their narrow, regionalist and rival agendas in these states, the two parties, alongside other right-wing bourgeois parties, have continued to stupefy the masses through demagogy and opportunism.   

SAD has publicly pledged to defy the recent November 30 Order of Supreme Court directing a status quo on SYL issue. In a rally in Moga on December 8, Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal, mocking at the status quo order of Supreme Court, openly bragged that the controversy had been resolved after denotification of the land acquired for construction of SYL and its return to the original owners. In utter contempt of Supreme Court orders, Badal stated that Punjab didn't have a single drop of water to spare.

Earlier SAD had held a protest over the SYL issue on 12 April 2016 in Ludhiana. The speakers at the gathering had vied against each other in taunting the Supreme Court while accusing the Congress and AAP for allegedly resorting to ‘double standards’.

The other political parties have played their own part in complicating and flaring up the issue, out of all proportions.

On 11 November 2016, Congress MLAs in the Punjab Assembly resigned in protest against the Supreme Court's decision that declared as unconstitutional the termination of the water accord by Punjab Assembly. Congress accused Akali Dal and AAP of ‘double speak’.

The same day, Aam Aadmi Party also began an indefinite protest at Kapoori village, blaming both the Shiromani Akali Dal and Congress for SYL. Apprehending law and order problem over the issue, next day, the Punjab Police deployed the Rapid Action Force in parts of Punjab, sealed the border with Haryana and increased patrolling on the National Highway

In Congress rally, organised on 13 November at Khuian Sarwar village. President of Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee and former Chief Minister of Punjab, Capt. Amarinder Singh, echoing earlier statement of his arch rival and the present Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal, declared that not a single drop of water will go out of Punjab. Capt. Amarinder Singh, has already resigned from Lok Sabha on 23 November in protest against the Supreme Court decision on SYL.

A joint delegation of Congress members in Parliament and Assembly from Punjab, had met the President on 17 November, urging him to form a panel to delay the implementation of the Supreme Court orders for completing construction of the SYL channel.

A delegation of Punjab government's ministers met the President on 28 November, urging him not to accept any advice against the riparian water rights

While former Chief Minister of Haryana, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, has demanded imposition of President’s rule in Punjab, the present Chief Minister has threatened to stop water supply to Delhi.
Over decades the pendency of SYL dispute has resulted in loss of innumerable lives alongside draining of huge financial and natural resources. Hundreds have been killed in violence built up around the issue while 1800 crores are already drained in the project.

The dispute between the two states, over water sharing had originated at the time of the division of the State of Punjab into twin states of Punjab and Haryana, on October 31, 1966, under the Punjab Re-organisation Act,1966. Ten years thereafter, during emergency, the Central Government issued a notification, amidst protests from Punjab, allocating 3.5 MAF water from Sutlej and its tributary Beas river to both Punjab and Haryana from its total measured volume of 7.2. MAF, and rest 0.2 to Delhi.

After coming to power in 1977 Akali Dal government under Prakash Singh Badal challenged the 1976 order of the central government through a suit before the Supreme Court. However, construction of Canal was started by both the states, with Haryana giving Rs. One crore to Punjab and completing its part by June 1980.

Congress returned to power in Punjab in 1980, through political intrigue of dividing Akali votes by throwing support behind the right-wing faction led by orthodox Sikh revivalist Jarnail Singh Bhindranwala, the then leader of Damdami Taksal. With intervention of the Congress government at the centre, a tripartite agreement was entered on December 31, 1981, among the Congress ruled States of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan on water sharing. A Water Tribunal, Ravi-Beas Tribunal, was also set up under this Agreement to look into the claims of contending parties.

On April 8, 1982, the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, had inaugurated the SYL channel at Kapoori Village near Patiala City of Punjab, amidst huge protest by Akalis known as Kapoori Morcha. Bhindranwala by that time had turned against Congress and its SYL project. Occupation of Golden Temple in Amritsar by Bhindranwala and his followers, a violent spree of communal terrorism, the forcible evacuation of Golden Temple in Operation Blue Star by the Army, the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by Sikh bodyguards to avenge the operation blue star inside the golden temple and ensuing anti-sikh communal riots fostered by the Congress, claiming lives of more than two thousand innocents, were the sequel of the deepening political rivalries among the bourgeois parties in their bid to capture power.

Rajiv Gandhi, son of Indira Gandhi, after taking to power in Delhi entered into a peace accord with Akalis on July 24, 1985, the Rajiv-Longowal Accord, that endorsed the water agreement of 1981. The Punjab Government pledged to complete the SYL canal till August 15, 1986. Ravi- Beas Water Tribunal was formed under Retd. Supreme Court Judge and all parties withdrew their suits.

Longowal was killed by terrorists opposed to the deal, leaving the work at SYL channel again in abeyance.

In October 1985, the Akali government returned to power and on November 5, 1986, Punjab legislative Assembly repudiated the 1981 agreement.

Ravi-Beas Water Tribunal, upheld the validity of the agreements of 1955, 1976 and 1981, quashing the 1985 resolution of Punjab Assembly, vide its award dated January 30,1987. It increased the water share of Punjab and Haryana both and directed completion of SYL in Punjab. The Akali government under Barnala started the construction of SYL and almost completed it by 1990, when it was stalled again due to killing of the chief engineer of the project by terrorists.

In 1999, Haryana again filed a suit before Supreme Court for directions to Punjab to complete the SYL channel on its territory.

In 2002, the Supreme Court directed Punjab to complete the SYL channel work within a year. Punjab filed a review which was dismissed. Still Punjab did not comply. In 2004, Supreme Court passed an order directing the central government to get the work completed through central agency. On July 2, Central Government appointed CPWD to take charge of SYL and complete the same. Immediately thereafter, the Punjab Assembly passed the legislation ‘The termination of Agreements Act, 2004’ on July 12, 2004, repudiating all of its commitments on water sharing with neighboring states and proceeded to denotify the acquired land.

In this backdrop a Presidential reference was made to the Supreme Court questioning the action of the Punjab Assembly, which the Supreme Court took up for hearing since March 7, 2016 and vide its verdict dated November 10, decided it against Punjab, invalidating the 2004 Act passed by the Punjab Assembly.

The Punjab Government, however, in open defiance of the verdict of the Supreme Court, swiftly denotified all of the acquired land on November 16 and returned it back to the original owners from whom it was acquired by November 20.

On a contempt Petition filed by Haryana Government, the Supreme Court on November 30 attempted to stall the denotification move of the Punjab Government and appointed a Panel to probe into the facts.

The issue around the SYL is more farcical than real. Though Haryana would be big beneficiary of the water supply through SYL canal to its southern parts, yet the same is no more crucial to its agriculture, that has done so well without it for decades.

On the other hand, the power house in Bhakhra Nangal Project is not even capable to absorb and utilize all of 7 MAF water diverted to it from river Beas. The surplus water is going waste for no useful use. It is only the absurd chauvinistic concerns, not actual needs, that have shaped the policies of the successive governments in contending states and at the centre in relation to the SYL canal.

The chief argument of Punjab that the volume of water in the rivers has gone down is a folly in so far as the volume is always fluctuating, depending on the monsoons and this is no argument for not completing the channel itself.

What the political parties as well the governments in both states are oblivious to, is the deepening crisis in the agriculture. In both Punjab and Haryana the water table is fast receding due to employment of archaic methods of agriculture and the unplanned crop cycles, rendering more and more arable lands, barren. The calls of experts for massive investments arresting the water loss of more than 30% for seepage, in both states alongside huge wastage of water on the lands and in crops that do not need ‘flood irrigation’, have gone unheard for decades. The dependence on repeated cycles of paddy and sugarcane, that absorb huge volumes of water in absence of much needed investments in sustainable irrigation for better water usages and preservation, is creating disaster. These new avenues, opened up by advanced technique and machinery are far more important, reliable and sustainable than the archaic canal channels.

The environmental degradation due to profit oriented agriculture that includes unregulated application of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, has resulted in general degradation of the environment, resulting in toxication of the groundwater and massive spread of diseases like cancer, previously unknown in rural Punjab.

Even bigger issue is the total stagnation of rural income for more than a decade. This is result of the sluggish growth in cultivation techniques, absence of new machinery, and the grossly insufficient public distribution system, and is prior indication of a spiraling crisis.

The parochial and partisan approach of the successive bourgeois governments to the agriculture in general and agrarian crisis in particular, is responsible for the imminent turmoil that farmers are facing in both states. The chauvinist hysteria being build up around the SYL issue, by the bourgeois parties, leaders and the governments under them would be of no real meaning or help to the people, except deflecting the attention from the real issues and the crisis for some time.

Heightening agrarian crisis is one of the terminal failures of the Indian bourgeoisie since exit of its colonial ancestors in 1947.  

The SYL dispute is only one among many such perennial inter-state water disputes in India. The dispute between Karnataka and Tamilnadu over Cauvery river water sharing is no less critical. Recently Karnataka Assembly did the same by passing legislation on Cauvery water issue defying the verdict of Water Dispute Tribunal against it and refusing to release the water from Cauvery reservoir. The Krishna-Godavari water dispute that involves Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa also remains unresolved till date.

Similar water sharing disputes have erupted from time to time between various other states, alongside those between India and the countries like China, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan etc. In all logical estimation, these disputes, instead of being resolved in future, are going to be a bone of contention between the stakeholder rival states and countries, resulting in unlimited wars, violence and bloodshed.  

The nub of all such crises in agriculture as in industry and economy in general is the artificial and narrow partitioning of the natural resources and territories amongst the sections of the bourgeoisie. These sections are exploiting these partitions, subjecting the invaluable resources to their limited vested interests that include wanton wastage and wasteful draining out of precious resources.

In many regions floods are creating havoc, while in others the drought. The linking of rivers, for example, can resolve the issue at both ends. But the narrow confines of partisan interests do not permit it. The control over these resources and territories, of the bourgeoisie, deeply divided among rival sections marred with narrow, vested interests of their own, is the chief impediment to the full and beneficial utilization of these resources for the welfare of the entire humanity. Capitalism has become an obstacle to further development of the productive forces and welfare of the mankind in general.  

Capitalism knows no way out of this blind alley, except a redistribution of the territories and resources, among the rival sections of the bourgeoisie, through violence and wars.

Only the forcible overthrow of capitalism through a world socialist revolution can lead to a peaceful reconciliation of all natural and human resources, by doing away with all territorial partitions and frontiers and thereby putting these resources to the common use and service of the mankind. 

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