In a major setback to the Punjab government, the Supreme Court on Thursday termed the Punjab Termination of Agreement Act, 2004, as invalid.
The apex court gave this verdict on the presidential reference of 2004 on the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal controversy.
The controversy is on sharing of waters by states, including Punjab and Haryana.
The apex court made it very clear that Punjab’s law scrapping water sharing agreements with neighbouring Haryana and other states is unconstitutional. The court also said that the Centre will now take over the canal and continue building it.
The highest court further said that Punjab government’s decision to break the unilateral agreement with Haryana was not right and Haryana will get its share of water while Punjab doesn’t have the right to go against the agreement. Citing the Presidential reference, the SC said what Punjab did was not correct. Punjab government’s decision to break the unilateral agreement was not right. Construction work will take place at the canal and judgement of 2004 will prevail.
A five-judge constitution Bench headed by Justice A. R. Dave, who is demitting office on November 18, reserved the verdict on May 12 after the Centre maintained its earlier stand of 2004, that the States concerned should settle their disputes on the matter by themselves.
While Justice Dave pronounced the opinion for the majority of the judges, Justice Singh, while agreeing with the majority view, gave his own observations.
At the initiative of the then Congress government headed by Amarinder Singh, the Punjab Assembly had unanimously passed the law terminating all the agreements with the states of Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Chandigarh and Delhi on the sharing of Sutlej-Yamuna river water.
This act was brought to tide over the January 15, 2002 apex court judgment and decree and subsequent judgment and order of June 4, 2004.
While answering the Presidential reference in the negative, the court refused to extend its interim order of March 17, 2016 by which it had appointed receivers under the Union Home Secretary to ensure that farmers’ land that was acquired for constructing the Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal was not disturbed.
The Punjab assembly had also passed a law for returning the farmers land acquired for the canal.