Decades-old SYL dispute triggers new storm

Despite all the political antics and despite the project costing the public exchequer a whopping Rs 700 crore, the fate of SYL canal hangs in balance.

There is once again a storm over the decades-old Sutlej–Yamuna Link Canal dispute as by-elections to the Mandi Adampur assembly constituency in Haryana are round the corner after former Congress MLA Kuldeep Bishnoi resigned both from his party and state Assembly to join the BJP. The dispute is as old as Haryana, which goes back to 1966 when Haryana was carved out of Punjab.

There are unresolved issues like Abohar and Fazilka, a separate High Court and a separate assembly for Haryana. But the SYL canal dispute remains a constant feature in the politics of both states. Only a day before AAP leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who was born in Siwani near Hisar, said that he could resolve the issue provided Prime Minster Narendra Modi invites him for a cup of tea. Surprise of all surprises, you can resolve the 40-year-old issue over a cup of tea? It will be the Eighth Wonder of the world, no less.

True to his wont, Kejriwal did what all Haryanvi lads are known, blow their nose like those gasbags. The song “Haryana aale kuch bhi kar de” aptly describes the impossible Haryanvi. When Kejriwal made such a wild claim, seated alongside him was his party colleague and Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann. Blaming the past governments, Kejriwal said that there has always been dirty politics at play on the SYL issue. He further threw a gauntlet down at the Centre, telling the government to resolve the issue and not let Punjab and Haryana fight with each other. With one master stroke, he absolved both Punjab and Haryana of any wrongdoing. The reason for such a dubious stand is obvious. His party runs the Punjab government, whereas Haryana is his birth place where he is aspiring to gain a toe-hold. That is why he launched his party’s “Make India No. 1” campaign from Hisar.

However, Kejriwal forgot it conveniently that while campaigning for AAP in Punjab assembly elections he had said that Punjab has the first right over the SYL water. So, what else could he say in Haryana except that both states are grain bowls of the country and the water level has gone down to alarming levels there in both states?

Responding to his statement, Haryana Assembly Speaker Gian Chand Gupta asked him in a tweet while quoting the famous couplet by Urdu poet Shahab Jafari, “Too idhar udhar kee baat na kar, ye bata ki kafila luta kyon?” (Don’t beat about the bush, tell us how the caravan was looted?) If you are a true son of Haryana, speak up for Haryana’s rights, Gupta further said.

Former MLA Bishnoi also asked Kejriwal to leave the Centre alone and instead make a clear stand on the SYL. The AAP supremo retaliated by saying that they don’t need Bishnoi’s advice. He joined the BJP only to save his skin.

However, Kejriwal told a truth about the dubious stands that both the Congress and BJP leaderships have been taking on the issue. When in Punjab, both parties say they would not let a single drop of water out of the state. But when they are in Haryana they say they would secure Haryana’s rights over the SYL water.

There were occasions when the same party was in government both at the Centre and in states. But alas even such favourable political dispensations could not be put to good use to find an amicable solution to the dispute. Former Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh instead got a resolution passed by the Punjab Assembly on the issue which was completely out of purview of the state legislature.

With changing times, the BJP and Capt. Amarinder are on the same side of the fence. It was said that Parkash Singh Badal and Choudhry Devi Lal were very good friends, yet they failed to devise a solution to the issue. The Bhajan Lal family too tried to stole the show and take the credit for the SYL canal project.

There have as well been high dramas enacted by political leaders over the issue. For instance, Abhay Chautala once decided to dig the canal by himself and his party workers and resolve the issue once and for all. He found himself in Budhai jail instead.

Former Chief Minister Bhupinder Hooda tried to resolve Haryana’s water woes by launching Hansi–Butana canal project at a cost of over Rs. 390 crore. But as soon as the government changed, the project was dumped sinking all the public money spent on its construction with not a single drop of water flowing through it.

Despite all the political antics and despite the project costing the public exchequer a whopping Rs 700 crore, the fate of the SYL still hangs in balance, bogged down as it is in what is called political quagmire. Though 120 km of the SYL within the territory of Punjab has been dug, while 92 km within the territory of Haryana has already been completed, there is little hope of the project coming to fruition in near future. With Kejriwal raking up the issue, the SYL dispute is in the spotlight once again. How all political parties will play the issue out in the run-up to the Mandi Adampur by-elections remains to be seen.

The author is former vice chairman of Haryana Granth Akademi.