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SYL row: SC says Punjab must share water; Cong leaders resign en masse

New Delhi: Punjab on Thursday suffered a serious setback as the Supreme Court held as unconstitutional the 2004 law passed by it to terminate the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal water sharing agreement with neighbouring states.

"All the questions have been answered in the negative," a five-judge bench headed by Justice A R Dave said, while pronouncing its decision on the presidential reference received by it.

Many leaders were extremely upset with the verdict and Congress MLAs resigned en masse from the Punjab Assembly over the verdict. Senior Congress leader Amarinder Singh quit from Lok Sabha to register his protest in the matter.

The judgement makes it clear that the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004 is "unconstitutional" and Punjab could not have taken a "unilateral" decision to terminate the water sharing agreement with Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi and Chandigarh.

The bench, which also included Justices P C Ghose, Shiva Kirti Singh, A K Goel and Amitava Roy, was unanimous in holding that all the five questions of Presidential reference have to be answered in the negative.

Thursday's judgement implies that the 2004 Act was not in consonance with the apex court judgement of 2003 which had mandated the construction of the SYL canal that has been stalled.

By the 2004 Act brought by the then Congress government led by Captain Amarinder Singh, the state had sought to nullify the SC verdict by stopping the construction of the remaining part of the SYL canal.

The judgement came on the presidential reference of 2004 on the controversy relating to sharing of water from SYL canal by the north Indian states.

A five-judge constitution bench headed by Justice A R Dave, who is demitting office on November 18, had 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.

The Centre had said it was not taking sides and maintaining a neutral stand in the matter in which the court has recorded the stands of other states -- Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir.

During the hearing of the case, while Punjab Assembly passed a law to return the land acquired on its side for the construction of SYL canal, the Haryana government approached the apex court which directed that status quo be maintained.

The court had also appointed the Union Home Secretary and Punjab's Chief Secretary and Director General of Police (DGP) as the 'joint receiver' of land and other property meant for SYL canal till the outcome of the judgement.

The Parkash Singh Badal government had submitted that a fresh tribunal be set up to resolve all disputes with other states including Haryana on all aspects, which will also cover the riparian rights and the dwindling flow of water.

It had said a fresh tribunal was sought in 2003, about 18 months before the 2004 law, to review the 1981 Longowal Accord on river water-sharing in view of depleting flow and other changed circumstances.

The water-sharing agreement was among Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Chandigarh and Jammu and Kashmir.

On Haryana's demand, Punjab had said that after its creation in 1966, it had become a riparian state of the Yamuna and was getting its share. At the same time, it had lost its riparian rights after it was carved out of Punjab.

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