‘Won’t share state’s water’: Desertification fear unites parties in Punjab

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Amarinder said the level of rivers in the state has reduced from 17 MAF to less than 13 MAF. The groundwater, that meets 73 per cent of irrigation requirement of the state, has declined to alarming levels, threatening the livelihood of farmers.
(File Photo)

Stating that Punjab is facing a threat of desertification with declining availability of river water and fast depleting groundwater, an all-party meeting here Thursday unanimously passed a resolution to press upon the Centre to ensure that the state’s water was not shared. In an apparent reference to the Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal project, the meeting, chaired by Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh (Retd.), also called for a new tribunal to assess river water availability in Punjab.

To press for its demand, Amarinder would lead an all-party delegation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The resolution, moved by Water and Irrigation Minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria said Punjab does not have surplus water and is facing a threat of desertification. “State’s groundwater that meets 73 per cent of its irrigation requirements, has declined to alarming levels, threatening the livelihood of farmers and other poor people. In such a situation, it is unanimously resolved that the Government of India should ensure that river water in Punjab is not in any way transferred from basin to non-basin areas of three rivers, namely Ravi, Sutlej and Beas, as per internationally accepted riparian principle,” it said.

However, the resolution did not specifically name the SYL Canal issue. It said alternatives should be ascertained before a final decision to ensure adequate water for Punjab.

“The alternatives include amendments to the proposed Inter-State River Water Disputes Act to set up a new tribunal for a complete de novo assessment of the availability of river water,” it said.

Punjab has been demanding a reassessment of the water volume of the Ravi-Beas river, with Haryana seeking completion of the SYL canal to get its share of 3.5 million acre-feet of the river water.

The Supreme Court had in September last year given four months to the Centre, Punjab and Haryana to find an amicable solution to the SYL canal issue.

While state presidents of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) Bhagwant Mann and Sukhbir Singh Badal, respectively did not attend the meeting, the leaders of the two parties and the ruling Congress were on the same page on the water situation in the state.

Also Read: ‘Punjab doesn’t have a single drop of water to share with Haryana’

Lok Insaf Party MLAs Simarjit Singh Bains and Balwinder Singh Bains staged a dharna outside the venue claiming that they were not invited for the meeting. The government, however, said that both did not owe allegiance to any registered political party and hence were not invited.

Earlier, expressing concern over the depleting groundwater table, Amarinder observed that the level of rivers in the state has reduced from 17 million acre-feet (MAF), as listed by the Eradi Commission, to less than 13 MAF. The groundwater, that meets 73 per cent of irrigation requirement of the state, has declined to alarming levels, threatening the livelihood of farmers.

AAP supports diversification

During the meeting, Leader of Opposition Harpal Singh Cheema extended full support to the government in promoting diversification of crops to enable water conservation. “The state should file another suit in the Supreme Court seeking a fresh assessment of the available water in Punjab and insist on redistribution of water on riparian laws,” he said. The situation in Malwa was particularly bad, he said, citing the growing number of cancer cases resulting from industrial water pollution, especially in Buddha Nullah.

Aman Arora (AAP) urged the state government to form a sub-committee of ministers, officers and representatives of all political parties to further work on the vital issue.

SAD calls for a united fight for water

Akali Dal’s Balwinder Singh Bhunder said the parties should unite to protect Punjab’s water resource. Terming SYL a major issue, he said apart from legal remedies, it was important also to pursue the matter politically.

His party colleague Mahesh Inder Singh Grewal endorsed the CM’s oft-repeated warning that it would lead to violence and possible revival of terrorism in the state. The Supreme Court, he felt, should hear a fresh petition and stay its decree on the construction of SYL. If the Centre’s fresh legislation for a new tribunal is passed, it would spell disaster for Punjab, he added. Calling for a change in Section 12 of the Inter-State River Water Dispute (Amendment) Bill, 2019, to protect Punjab’s water interests, he underlined the need to put up a united fight on the issue.

Madan Mohan Mittal of BJP stressed the importance of breaking the paddy/wheat cycle and ensuring diversification, along with regeneration of groundwater, to boost the income of Punjab’s farmers. He agreed with the government’s stand for MSP support by the Centre for crop diversification.

Bant Brar (CPI) and Sukhwinder Singh Sekhon (CPM) wanted the Longowal accord to be followed in the distribution of water. Sekhon was of the view that the Swaminathan Commission report should be implemented in toto in the interest of the farmers.

BSP state president Jasbir Singh Garhi said Punjab had always been discriminated against by the central government, thus denying its due water share.

Manjit Singh (Trinamool Congress) said his party was with the state government on saving water, especially through crop diversification. To prevent wastage of water, the government should stop giving free power for tubewells, and rainwater harvesting should be promoted, along with sewage treatment, to conserve groundwater, he added. He suggested that the government should give 100% subsidy for construction of composite pits for recharge of water.
Swaran Singh (NCP) also batted for a reassessment of water levels to ensure that Punjab is not cheated out of its due.
PPCC president Sunil Jakhar suggested that an all-party delegation should meet the Prime Minister with a mercy petition, given that people would start dying unless the problem is resolved at the earliest. The demand was accepted by the CM.

All party meet every six months: Capt

Talking to the media after the meeting, Amarinder welcomed “the positive and constructive suggestions by leaders of all parties” and said his government would seek time from PM to take an all-party delegation to represent Punjab’s case. He pointed out that internationally accepted riparian principles had been ignored in the distribution of water in the country and stressed the need to correct the same.

He also announced that his government would hold such meetings every six months to discuss important issues related to the state. “When the water level is going down, you have to have a new tribunal to check water availability. First, get it checked how much volume of water is in rivers and it will be ascertained by the tribunal,” Singh said.