Chandigarh, January 23 – Expressing grave concern over the state’s critical water situation, an all-party meeting, chaired by Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, on Thursday demanded reassessment of the state’s water availability and unanimously resolved that the Government of India should ensure that Punjab river water is not in any way transferred from basin to non-basin areas of the state’s three rivers.
All parties also unanimously demanded suitable amendments to the proposed Inter State River Water Disputes Act to set up a new tribunal, to ensure that Punjab gets adequate water “in a just and equitable manner in keeping with its total demand and securing livelihood of the future generations.”
The RESOLUTION read: “Punjab does not have surplus water and is facing a threat of desertification with declining availability of its river water and fast depleting groundwater. 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 Punjab river water 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. Further, alternatives should be ascertained, including amendments to the proposed Inter State River Water Disputes Act to set up a new tribunal for a complete de novo assessment of availability of river waters before final decision, to harness, develop and provide adequate water to Punjab in a just and equitable manner in keeping with its total demand and securing livelihood of the future generations.”
The resolution was moved by Cabinet Minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria at the all-party meeting convened by the Chief Minister to ascertain ways to address the state’s continuously aggravating water crisis.
Though the resolution did not mention SYL, leaders of all political parties, including the Akali Dal and AAP, termed any move to construct the canal fatal for the state. All the parties hailed the Chief Minister’s initiative in convening the meeting on the critical issue.
The Chief Minister later welcomed the positive and constructive suggestions given by leaders of all the parties and said his government would seek time from the Prime Minister to take an all-party delegation to represent Punjab’s case. The internationally accepted riparian principles had been ignored in the distribution of water in India, he pointed out, stressing the need to correct the same. He also announced that his government would hold such all-party meetings every six months to discuss important issues related to the state.
Terming the water problem a vital issue of concern to the whole of Punjab, and not just to his government or the Congress party, the Chief Minister, at the outset, set the tone for the meeting by pointing out that water had emerged as a global issue in view of the climate change and melting glaciers. Cities were predicted to go under water across the world, he noted, adding that while that “might not happen in our time, we owe it to the future generations to find a solution.” The meeting, he said, had been convened to discuss the issue threadbare and arrive at a consensus to facilitate the formulation of a cohesive and long-term policy.
Expressing concern over the depleting ground water table, the Chief Minister observed that the level in Punjab rivers had reduced from 17 MAF, as listed by the Eradi Commission, to less than 13 MAF now. His government, said the Chief Minister, had been pressing the Prime Minister to form a fresh Commission to assess the current water levels in Punjab’s three rivers. This was imperative in view of the changed situation, he told mediapersons after the meeting. The Chief Minister clarified that the Bains brothers had not been invited to the meeting as only political parties recognised by the Election Commission had been included in the list of invitees.
Earlier, speaking during the meeting, Leader of Opposition Harpal Singh Cheema (Aam Aadmi Party) extended full support to the government in promoting diversification of crops to enable water conservation in the state. The state should file another suit in the Supreme Court seeking 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 Budha Nalla, he noted.
Aman Arora (AAP) urged the state government to form a sub-committee of minister, officers and representatives of all political parties to further work on the vital issue.
Shiromani Akali Dal’s Balwinder Singh Bhunder said the parties should not indulge in blame games but 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. Extending his party’s support to any steps taken by the Captain Amarinder government to tackle the crisis, he said reassessment of the water levels in Punjab’s rivers was imperative.
Dubbing SYL as suicidal for Punjab, Mahesh Inder Singh Grewal (SAD) endorsed the Chief Minister’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 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 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.
SAD leader Prem Singh Chandumajra was also of the view that riparian laws needed to be followed in water allocation to Punjab.
Madan Mohan Mittal (BJP) thanked the Chief Minister for bringing all parties on one platform on the critical issue. He stressed the importance of breaking the paddy/wheat cycle and ensuring diversification, along with regeneration of ground water, to boost the income of Punjab’s farmers, who were reeling under major debts despite their contribution to the nation’s food security. 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.
Jasbir Singh Garhi, BSP State President, 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 ground water, 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 reassessment of water levels to ensure that Punjab is not cheated out of its due.
In his concluding remarks, Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar urged all parties to show collective will, leaving their egos aside in order to save Punjab. He suggested an all-party delegation to meet the Prime Minister with a mercy petition, given that people would start dying unless the problem is resolved at the earliest.
The other leaders who participated in the All Party Meeting included MLA Aam Aadmi Party Kultar Singh Sandhwan, SAD leader Tota Singh, BJP leader Manoranjan Kalia, CPI leaders Bhupinder Sambhar, Dr. Joginder Dayal, Secretary CPI (M) Sukhwinder Singh Sekhon,, CPI (M) leader Bhup Chand, State General Secretary BSP Nachhattar Pal, State Secretary of BSP Dr. Jaspreet Singh, Trinamool Congress State General Secretary Gurpreet Chauhan, Roshan Lal Goel and NCP leader Gurinder Singh.
Prominent amongst those present in the meeting included Local Government Minister Brahm Mohindra, Rural Development and Panchayats Minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Water Supply and Sanitation Minister Razia Sultana, CM’s Media Advisor Raveen Thukral, CM’s Political Secretary Capt. Sandeep Sandhu, Chief Principal Secretary to CM Suresh Kumar, Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh, Principal Secretary Water Resources A. Venu Prasad, Principal Secretary to CM Tejveer Singh, Special Principal Secretary to CM Gurkirat Kirpal Singh, Special Secretary Water Supply and Sanitation Gaggandip Singh Brar.