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Water and Hydel Power Issue: Punjabi Suba Sabotaged

Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon

The water and hydel power issue is the most important, revealing and dismal chapter of the Punjab problem. We shall state its story under different heads.

Introduction of Sections 78 to 80

We have given the text of these provisions and shall first indicate how its introduction is illegal and why it has been introduced. We have already indicated that water being an inseparable part of the land on which it flows, and territory being an integral component of a state, ‘Irrigation’ and ‘Hydel Power’ are state subjects under Item-17 of the State list. Further, under Articles 162 and 246 (3), our constitution gives full and exclusive legislative and executive powers to the states over water and hydel power. Agriculture and industry being entirely dependent on irrigation and hydel power, these have been kept purely state subjects in our Constitution and in other countries as well. There is hardly any state which, except Punjab now, does not enjoy final and exclusive power in relation to irrigation and hydel power of its own state rivers. Hence, the introduction of Sections 78 to 80 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act 4966, which gave all powers to the Centre is ultra vires of the constitution being beyond the legislative power of the Parliament and being violative of the Articles or the Constitution referred above. In addition, these Sections are violative of the equality article 14 of the Constitution because these are discriminatory for the reason that while the Act gives exclusive rights of the waters of Jamuna, to Haryana, it makes the waters of three exclusively Punjab rivers not only distributable by the Centre but also vests their control with the Central government. Hence, Punjab’s stand since 1966 has been that this patently unconstitutional Act either should be revised and the control of Punjab rivers given to Punjab or the issue should be referred to the Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court to determine the constitutionality of these provisions of Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966.

Evidently, the introduction of Sections 78 to 80 is unconsti­tutional and for that matter a high-handed act involving serious encroachment on the constitutional rights of the Punjab State. The seeming excuse of this discrimination and usurpation is that before the Reorganisation of Punjab, there was a project called the Beas Project, under which about 0.9 M.A.F. waters were supposed to be used in the Haryana area of the erstwhile Punjab, whereas the remaining waters of the Pun jab rivers were to be utilised in Punjabi Suba and for which channels, etc. had also been dug But since the reorganisation took place in 1966, and Haryana had become non-riparian vis-a-vis Satluj, Beas and Ravi, just as Punjab had become non-riparian vis-a-vis Jamuna, the question of giving even this 0.9 M.A.F. to Harvana could not arise, nor could that be made an excuse for introducing the unconstitutional and discrimi­natory sections 78 to 80 in the Punjab Reorganisation Act. 1966. We shall further see how by the introduction of these sections Punjab Government has almost completely been excluded from the administration and development of the three Punjab rivers and their hydel power. Sections 78 to 80 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act are unconstitutional, discriminatory and uncalled for because no part of the three Punjab rivers runs through any part of Harvan3 territory. The definition of basin accepted everywhere in the world is as under:

A drainage basin is an area within the territories of two or more states in which all the streams of flowing surface water, both natural and artificial drain a common water-shed terminating in a common outlet or common outlets either to the sea or to a lake or to some inland place from which there is no apparent outlet to a sea.1

It is well known that geographically neither any rivulet, drain, river or channel from Haryana falls in the Punjab rivers nor ends in the Arabian sea, where Punjab rivers fall. In short and in fact, the Haryana basin is entirely different from the basin of the Punjab rivers.

Abase of Sections 78 to 80 Starts

  1. Control of Punjab Rivers Assumed

Before 1966, Punjab was in complete control of its rivers and the utilisation of their waters and hydel power. The multi-purpose projects in Punjab were controlled by a board. It’s Chairman, Secretary, the General Manager and three members were from the Punjab Administration. There were only two members from Rajasthan and one from Himachal Pradesh. This Board and its administration worked under the Punjab Government.2 The entire budget and the administration of the Punjab projects were controlled and approved by the Punjab Government and its legislature. But after 1966, the Centre under Sections 78 and 80 constituted a statutory Board which works under the Central Government. The Chairman, two Working Members and two other members are appointed by the Centre and one member each is taken from Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan.3

The important fact is that whereas earlier every employee in the multi-purpose projects was an employee of the Punjab Govern­ment, hence forward everyone has become an employee of the Central Government. In short, the entire control, administration, functioning and development of the Punjab rivers and their hydel power have been taken over completely by the Centre from the Punjab Government.

  1. S.Y.L. and Indira Gandhi Canals

We have indicated above how the Beas Project, in which at a later date only C.Q M. A.F. was to be given to Haryana area, was made an excuse for the introduction of Sections 78 to 80, giving unlimited powers of control, development and distribution of waters to the Centre. Till 1947 water to Ganganagar area, part of erstwhile Bikaner state of Rajasthan, was being paid for by the Bikaner state to Punjab, the sole owner of the waters of Punjab. But, in 1966 having, once, gained unconstitutional powers under Sections 78 to 80, the Centre abused those powers, on the one hand, to curb and deprive Punjab of its legitimate rights, and, on the other hand, to let non-riparian states make use of Punjab waters and hydel power.

In the Beas Project, or before 1966, there was not the least indication that Haryana would have a project for the use of 4 to 5 M. A.F. of waters of the Punjab rivers. Yet without reference to Punjab or its approval, the riparian owner of the rivers, Haryana made a scheme for the use of 4 to 5 M.A.F. of Punjab waters. The proposed channel is to be linked with a canal from Yamuna waters and by lift irrigation, water is to be used in the table lands and other areas in the Yamuna basin of Haryana. On the basis of this Scheme, called the Satluj-Yamuna Link Canal, which Haryana had got approved from Delhi, it put a claim with the Centre for allocation to it of Punjab waters. Naturally, Punjab seriously objected to it, the Scheme being beyond the scope of the Beas Project and for that matter beyond the purview of Section 78, which related only to the two multi-purpose projects of Punjab i.e. Bhakra and Beas Projects. In this background Haryana naturally created a dispute and wanted the Centre to arbitrate under Section 78 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act.

In 1976, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi gave the Award that out of the available 15.2 M.A.F. of the waters of Satluj, Ravi and Beas, Punjab and Haryana would get 3.5 M.A.F. each, and Delhi 0.2 M.A.F. The remaining 8 M.A.F, were unilaterally earmarked by the Centre for Rajasthan, another non-riparian State, uncon­cerned with the Punjab Reorganisation Act of 1966.4 These 8 M.A.F. were considered to have been allotted by the Centre under an executive order of Shri G.L. Nanda as Central Minister of Irri­gation. In 1955, he had without any concurrence of the Punjab Government, allocated them to Rajasthan.

Punjab had framed a Scheme called the Them Dam Scheme on the river Ravi for the use of its water and hydel power in the State. This purely Punjab Scheme was framed in 1964 and was originally to cost only Rupees seventy crores. But in contrast the Centre never approved this Scheme for decades on end, even though its cost had risen over eight hundred crores. This is a clear instance of how unfairly and discriminately the Centre has been using its unconstitutional powers of control over Punjab waters.

Another instance of discrimination is that of a canal Scheme, presently known as Indira Gandhi Canal, of 8.6 M.A.F. in non- riparian Rajasthan. The Centre approached the World Bank for a loan to construct this Canal. They sent a team of experts to assess its feasibility and productivity. The team was headed by David E. Lilienthal, erstwhile Chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority and Chairman of U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. In this connection A.A. Michel, author of ‘Indus Rivers’, writes:

Viewed realistically the Rajasthan Project in its ultimate form is a dubious one The ideal of extending the Rajasthan Canal parallel to the Indo-Pakistan border in the northern portion of the Thar Desert down to a point about opposite the Sukkur Barrage was a seductive one: 7.9 million acres could be brought under command and 6.7 million of these are potentially cultivable although the project in its present form is limited to supplying water to only 4.5 million acres of which only 3.5 million would be cultivated in a given year. Even then, these lands will receive only 1 cusec (F. N. II) of water for each 250 to 300 acres, an intensity lower than what has prevailed in the Punjab since the British times (1 cusec for 200 acres,) and less than one third of what prevails in the US Assured by her geographical position and later by the treaty of the full use of the Eastern Rivers, India naturally sought an area to irrigate, an area in which to demonstrate that free India could do as much as the British in bringing new lands under cul­tivation.

 

Forgotten or overlooked were the fundamental differences between the Punjab, with its convergent perennial streams, tapering doabs and silty soil, and the Thar desert, hundreds of miles from the Sutlej with its sand and sand dunes. The cumulative irrigation experience in India, Egypt, the US, and the Soviet Union indicates that more food and fibre can be obtained by increasing the water" allowance to existing cultivated lands than by spreading thin water over new tracts But to introduce it into the Thar Desert is economically unjustifiable. The 8.8 MAF of Beas-Sutlej-Ravi water that are to be diverted from Harike for the Rajasthan canal could be put to much better use in the East Punjab, north and the south of the Sutlej, and in the eastern margins of Rajasthan served by the Bikaner Canal and Sirhind Feeder. Combined with con­centrated application of the limited fertilizers at India’s disposal, yields in the established areas could be doubled or trebled at a saving in cost and pain in Rajasthan. The very experience with the Bhakra project itself, which increased water supplies to 3.3 million acres south of the Sutlej demonstrates this. Yet even here, s out of every 182 run into a canal, 112 are lost by seepage, evapora­tion and non-beneficial transpiration of plants. On the Rajasthan canal, although the lining will reduce seepage in the main canal to a minimum, evaporation alone might reduce supplies by 50 per cent. And the seepage losses in the unlined branch canals, dis­tributaries, minors, sub-minors, water courses, and on the bunded fields themselves will further reduce the share of water that can be used beneficially by plants of economic value.5

The U. S. Bureau of Reclamation severely criticized India for wanting to undertake an irrigation Scheme in desert lands. They warned that the consequences of persisting with the project from the technical and economic point of view would be plain frustra­tion. And yet we find that out of 15.2 M.A.F. Punjab river waters, 8 M.A.F. remained ear-marked for non-riparian Rajasthan, and later actually 8.6 M.A.F. were allotted to it. The net result is that out of 15.2 M.A.F. only 3.5 M.A.F. were given to riparian Punjab and the rest were managed to be diverted to non-riparian States. It is significant to note that the same Rajasthan applied to the Narmada tribunal for water of that river. Its request was rejected outright because Rajasthan was non-riparian in regard to river Narmada. But knowing all this the same government almost gave half of the available waters to non-riparian Rajasthan and only 25% to riparian Punjab.

  1. Judicial Process Thwarted
  1. Case Withdrawn from the Supreme Court

Since the Award of 1976, as indicated above, was highly detri­mental to Punjab, in 1978 when an Akali Ministry was in power in the State and the Janta Ministry was at the Centre, it filed a case before the Supreme Court, seeking a verdict on the constitutionality of Sections 78 to 80 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act. It was obvious that the Sections were ultra-vires of the legislative powers of the Parliament and apprehensions of a judicial verdict against Haryana and Rajasthan became evident. In 1980 Indira Gandhi returned to power. It became clear that the apple cart of allotment made by her to non-riparian States might be upset by the judicial verdict of the Supreme Court. At that time there were Congress Ministries in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. She called the Chief Ministers of the three States and virtually got the allotment under her Award endorsed through an Agreement (1981) among the three states.6 The allocations made under this Award were as under:

Haryana (non-riparian) – 3.5 M.A.F.

Rajasthan (non-riparian) – 8.6 M.A.F.

Delhi (non-riparian) – 0.2 M.A.F.

Punjab (riparian) – 4.22 M.A.F.

Jammu and Kashmir (riparian) – 0.65 M.A.F.

There is a public report that the Punjab Chief Minister Darbara Singh was made to sign the above Agreement virtually under the threat of a “gun”. It was a report confirmed and reitera­ted by the correspondent of the Tribune.7

Throughout the period of dispute the demand of Punjab has been that the issue being purely a constitutional matter, the only right solution could be, and to which no party could have any objection, a judicial verdict of the Supreme Court on the constitu­tionality of Sections 78 to 8u of the Punjab Reorganisation Act. Because the question was not of the distribution of Punjab waters; the real issue was whether a non-riparian state had any right to any portion of the waters of Punjab rivers. Here it is pertinent to point out how Rajasthan pleaded its case before the Narmada Tribunal. Rajasthan, a non-riparian State, sought waters of Narmada river on the ground that though a non-riparian state vis-a-vis Punjab livers it had got waters from these rivers. The clear verdict in the case was that Rajasthan was non-riparian vis-a-vis Punjab rivers and Narmada, and, as such, it could not get any waters from those rivers as of right.8

  1. Chief Justice Transferred

There is another incident which clearly suggests that the Centre had a conviction that its diversion of waters and hydel powers to non-riparian States of Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi was un-constitutional and untenable. For this reason it was very particular that the issue about the vires of Sections 78 to 80 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act was not allowed to be adjudicated upon by the Supreme Court. In 1984, a farmer’s organisation from Punjab filed a writ in the Punjab and Haryana High Court on the ground of the unconstitutionality of Sections 78 to 80 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966, and the diversion of Punjab waters, which were badly needed in the State, to non-riparian States. After some preliminary argument, Chief Justice S.S. Sandhawalia constituted a full Bench with himself as a Presiding Judge. He announced the order on the last working day of the week and fixed the case for hearing on the following Monday (25.11.1983). But before the hearing of the case could start, in the intervening holidays two things happened. Chief Justice Sandhawalia was transferred from Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh to Patna High Court.9 Secondly, the Attorney General made an oral application to the Supreme Court that the case was of importance and should be transferrd from the file of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to that of the Supreme Court. The request was granted and the case transferred to the file of the Supreme Court,10 where it continued pending without any decision. This shows how reluctant the Central Government is to follow the constitutional course which otherwise is the only right solution of the issue about the water and the hydel power dispute.

Here we may record a judicial opinion expressed regarding the water rights of Punjab in relation to the waters of the three Punjab rivers It has been stated that since under the Indus-Water Dispute, the Indian Government made a small contribution for the construction of replacement works, which were to be comp­leted in Pakistan to enable it to feed the irrigation channels from Chenab and other rivers, instead of as earlier from the three Punjab rivers, the water so released by Pakistan was purchased by the Indian Government This is a fallacy because minor payment was for the replacement works and not for the water. In fact, the World Bank and other international institutions had furnished a much larger amount for that purpose. The opinion of S.M. Sikri, formerly the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is note­worthy:

The fact that the Central Government paid to Pakistan a sum of Rupees 62 millions in order to obtain unrestricted use of all waters of Eastern Rivers, the Sutlej, Ravi and Beas, is irrele­vant to the question, namely, what if any, are the rights of Haryana in the Ravi and Beas. It is irrelevant because the effect of the Indus Treaty, 1960, was that the sovereign right of erstwhile State of Punjab to control or regulate the use of waters of Ravi and Beas which was a limited right in 1966 in view of the existence of Inter­national Servitude (Page 51 of law or Succession by Counsel) ceased to be limited in 1970. It was the reorganised State of Punjab which had either retained the sovereign right under the Act or acquired it under the Act.11

The point of constitutional importance is that land and water being an integral component of a State, territorial jurisdiction over them can neither be transferred nor sold, because the transfer of water rights means the transfer of the land and the territorial rights thereof. Such a contradiction about the transfer or sale of water is thus a constitutional impossibility.

  1.  Channel to the Thermal Plant

Under its power of distribution, the Centre has been allotting the hydel power of rivers to the non-riparian States even though it is the State and not the Centre that has exclusive jurisdiction in the matter. This cheapest source of electricity having been diverted to non-riparian Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi, Punjab has been obliged to put up thermal plants which produce very expensive energy. Apart from the hazards of bringing coal from distant coal mines, interruption in the daily carriage of coal can always cause serious dislocation in the production of electricity. In 1984, Punjab had completed a thermal plant at Ropar, at a cost of over four hundred crores of rupees.12 In order to enable it to function, a cooling channel of water had to be drawn from the main canal. After cooling the thermal plant, this water had again to be thrown back into the main channel. This short channel was to be created within the Ropar district of Punjab. But the non-riparian Rajasthan objected to the same and an obliging Central Management Board declined to allow the channel to be dug.13 This dispute was, thus, made a lever to pressurise Punjab to come to an extra-judicial Agreement involving a virtual arbitration by the Centre through its appointed nominees. This Agreement is considered to have an important implication. The Agreement of 1981 among the three Chief Ministers only related to waters. The result of it was that whereas the case in the Supreme Court about water had been withdrawn, the issue about the unconstitutionality of Sections 78 to 80 in relation to hydel power could still be raised in the Supreme Court. It is in order to bar that door for obtaining the verdict of the Supreme Court that this Hydel Power Agreement among the three States was made. And the impropriety of the Agreement is that since there was President’s rule in Punjab, the Governor was the representative of the Centre and it was he, not the duly elected Government in the State, who entered into an Agreement with the other States.14

  1.  Trap of Tribunal Adopted

Another point is that whereas insistent Sikh demand has been for the judicial verdict of the Supreme Court, the Centre has persistently declined to follow that simple course in order to solve the Punjab problem. On the other hand, as we have seen, when the matter was pending with the Supreme Court, an arrangement was made to have it withdrawn from its file and the judicial verdict avoided. Instead, the suggestion of the Centre has been that the issue be placed before the Government appointed tribunal under the Inter-State Water Disputes Act. The evident object of this suggestion was twofold, first, the tribunal cannot give a verdict on the consti­tutionality of the Sections 78 to 80 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act, and, second, that once the tribunal gives the verdict, the issue cannot, thereafter, be placed before the Supreme Court for its judicial verdict. Thus, the Government suggestion for a tribunal was just a method to avoid permanently the constitutional verdict of the Supreme Court. All we seek to emphasize is that whereas the simplest and the only solution of the water problem was a verdict of the Supreme Court, this has, in the preceding about quarter of a century, been carefully avoided. One of the chief objections to a reference to the tribunal was that Punjab rivers were not inter-state rivers and under the Inter-State River Waters Disputes Act only a dispute concerning an inter-state river could be entertained by a tribunal. Hence, a reference to the tribunal, was not only legally uncalled for but was considered a trap. And, in 1985, under an Agreement (Accord), instead of following the constitutional course, a reference to the Tribunal was made. The Centre has succeeded in its plan in having the verdict of a Govern­ment appointed Tribunal, even though it knew that Rajasthan, on its own admission, was non-riparian vis-a-vis Punjab rivers and the dispute did not relate to the waters of any inter-state river. The Tribunal has virtually endorsed Indira Gandhi’s Award and made the following allotments:

Rajasthan (non-riparian) - 8.60 M.A.F.

Haryana (non-riparian) - 3.83 M.A.F.

Delhi (non-riparian) - 0.20 M.A.F.

Punjab (riparian) - 5.00 M.A.F.

Jammu and Kashmir (riparian) - 0.65 M.A.F.

Total - 18.28 M.A.F.15

Actually the waters for distribution remain, as earlier assessed, only at 15.2 M.A.F. The present assessment of 18.28 M.A.F. is the result of technical and mathematical juggleries, that have no relation to realities on the ground.

Thus the Government appointed Tribunal has allocated to the non-riparian States about seventy five per cent of the waters of the Punjab rivers that stood un-utilized in the Indian Punjab in 1947, and are essentially required in the State.

The above four instances of avoiding the judicial verdict, make it plain that the Centre has the conviction that Sections 78 to 80 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act are unconstitutional and cannot stand the judicial scrutiny of the Supreme Court. It has, therefore, studiously been avoiding the simplest method of resolv­ing the tangled problem of the water and hydel power issue through a verdict of the Supreme Court. Instead, whenever an attempt was made to get a judicial verdict, the Central Government went out of the way to frustrate that recourse to the judicial process. Instead, when after the tragedies of June 1984, and November 1984, the Akali leadership stood totally discredited, both with the people and the Government, it entered into an Agreement (Accord 1985) with a demoralised Sant Harchand Singh Longowal and succeeded in referring the water issue of purely State rivers, to a Tribunal, under the Inter State Water Disputes Act, 1956.16 In fact, there was a clear legal opinion that the amendment made by the Centre to enable this issue to be referred to the Tribunal had no validity or meaning. Nor could the amendment, it was consi­dered, give any jurisdiction to the Tribunal to entertain the issue of State rivers till the definition of ‘Water dispute’ under Section 2 of the I.S.W.D. Act 1956 was amended. But this amendment could not take place because of the constitutional hurdle. For the Act was about disputes concerning inter-State rivers, and not about State rivers regarding which Parliament was not competent to legislate.

Water Requirement of Punjab

We have already indi­cated what was the terrible loss both of land and the irrigated area of the Punjab, following partition of India at the time of Indepen­dence. The irony of the matter is that it is the Punjab and Punjabis, who had to sacrifice property, land and blood for the sake of Indian independence. But they were not allowed any compensation for their losses by allotment of Government land or irrigated area outside the Indian Punjab, to which they were kept confined. They were given meagre compensation only to the extent of the land and property left by the Muslim migrants to Pakistan. And the still greater irony or injustice is that of the seventy five per cent of the available waters of the Punjab rivers which could irrigate the berani lands of the Punjabis and the displaced persons, instead of being utilised locally, have been trans­ferred to other States, including distant Rajasthan deserts in order to benefit non-displaced persons there.

The Punjabi Suba has an area of 105 lac acres. According to the experts of the University (P.A.U., Ludhiana) and official estimates about 5 to 6 acre feet of water are required annually to mature an acre plot for the normal paddy-wheat rotation. As such, the minimum annual requirement of the total cultivable area comes to 52.5 M.A.F. The Punjab rivers have a total annual water flow of 32.5 M.A.F. of which about 10 M.A.F. were used in Punjabi Suba (then part of Eastern Punjab) at the time of partition. Now of the remaining about 22 M.A.F. hardly about 5 M.A.F. or so, have been allotted to Punjab under the Central powers of dis­tribution. The rest of the water has, without reference to the Supreme Court of the Constitutional issue, been allotted to non­-riparian Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi to be used in Yamuna basin and the Rajasthan desert outside the basin of Ravi, Beas and Sutlej.

Here, apart from the Narmada case in which the request of Rajasthan was rejected outright because of its being a non-riparian State, we would like to state a decision by a Court in California about the water rights of the people of a state. The riparian law is based on the principle of equity that those who suffer, for centuries on end, loss of men, property and land from the floods of a river, are alone entitled to the benefits of water and other rights in the stream concerned. For, over a century the inhabi­tants of Southern California (U.S.A.) were using exclusively the waters of a stream for their lands, but the Government land and property situated in this State were not allowed any water from that stream. The Federal Government filed a case for use of waters for its lands. The Court allowed the request in a limited manner and subject to the water rights of the private users of water for their lands. But the private owners felt deeply aggrieved and upset by the decision and were preparing to go in for appeal against that decision on the ground that persons suffering perpetual losses are alone entitled to the benefits of a river.17 And since Govern­ment never suffered any loss of life, cattle or property, it was not entitled to any benefits.18

Here it is necessary to record that in a single year of 1988, Punjab suffered scores of deaths and over a billion dollar worth of flood loss in property, land and housing.19 But Haryana and Rajasthan did not suffer even a penny worth of loss from the floods of Punjab rivers in that year or earlier. And yet, they have been made, under the Central dispensation, the chief beneficiaries of the water and hydel power of the Punjab rivers. The inequity and injustice of the allotment is too apparent and glaring to need any further comments.

We have already stated that whereas Punjab needs every drop of 32.5 M.A.F. of its waters, it has been deprived of most of its available waters by diversion to the non-riparian States. The present situation is that out of about 105 lac acres of cultivable area, only about 37 lac acres are irrigated by canals. Of the remaining area, 55 lac acres are irrigated by private tubewells. Apart from the capital cost of over Rupees 1100 crores, at two thousand per acre for private tubewell irrigation, its running cost is 3 to 4 times more than the cost of canal irrigation. Diesel tubewell irrigation is 10 to 12 times more expensive than the cost of canal irrigation.

Dismal Failure of Tubewell Irrigation

As indicated above, the present well-being of Punjab agriculture is largely depen­dent on expensive tubewell irrigation. We have seen how the Centre by its powers has given a very serious blow to the Punjab economy by transferring a very major percentage of Punjab waters and hydel power to non-riparian States. And, whereas Punjab agriculture is dependent very largely on expensive tubewell irrigation, cheap canal water and electricity have been diverted to non-riparian States to benefit their people and agriculture.

But the most significant and real danger to Punjab agriculture is the feared fate of tubewell irrigation. At present, each year over eight lac tubewells are over drawing sub-soil water, with the result that the subsoil water table has gone down from 3 to 10 feet in different parts of the State.20 This is making tubewell irrigation not only increasingly expensive, but also difficult or even impossible because of the need of lowering the pipes and the pumping on account of the falling water table.21 There are different estimates of the annual re-charge of the sub-soil water in Punjab, varying from 3 M.A.F. to 10.6 M.A.F.22 Considering the annual draw of water to irrigate fifty lac acres of land, the over-draw per annum is between 12 to 24 M.A.F. This involves a continuous fall of water table of about one foot each year. The result is that most of the 118 community blocks in the State have been declared unsuitable for further irrigation. The fear is that by the end of the Century most of the eight lac shallow tubewells will become non-functional because of the fall in water table. Experts have already given the warning that it will not take long to make most of our tubewell irrigated land barani. A Professor of the Punjab Agriculture University (P.A.U.) Ludhiana writes:

How long shall this state of affairs last? We must take steps to correct the situation, lest our grandchildren inherit a land returned to semi-desert.23

And the irony is that all this has been happening under the powers of irrigation and hydel unconstitutionally assumed by the Centre over the Punjab rivers. Further, this diversion of water, as stated above, while it is, from the point of the country, going to be less productive in distant Rajasthan, it would have been far more productive by its use in the Punjab.

Loss of Punjab

(a) Economic Implications of Reorga­nisation Act: The production loss to Punjab agriculture by the diversion of canal waters and the corresponding gain of production in Haryana and Rajasthan areas is estimated between Rs. 2200 to 2500 crores per annum.24 The loss in the field of industry and employment is far greater each year. In addition, the Punjab farmer is losing Rupees 100 to 150 crores each year by having to resort to expensive diesel tubewell irrigation. But the greatest calamity that is feared is that within about a decade forty lac acres under tubewell irrigation will become barani or un-irrigated; in­volving, in addition, a waste of most of the private capital invest­ment of Rs. 1100 crores.25

Critics have stated that the facts are too clear and the approa­ching disasters so realistic that it is not possible to avoid the inference that the impending calamities seem to appear to follow the dictum of Machiavelli, who suggested that the best way to rule an area which is used to a tradition of liberty and independence is to despoil it.

(b) Political Implications of the Reorganisation Act: We have seen how Punjab has become, under the existing political dispensation, completely helpless in avoiding the economic ruina­tion of its lands and people, much less has it the political capacity and power to improve the socio-economic fate or the future of the State. The reason for it is that under the provisions of the Punjab Reorganisation Act, not only has the economic fate of its people been sealed but a virtual ceiling has been put on the political growth or autonomy of the State. Punjab unlike other states.is politically incapable of developing its agriculture and industry since the entire administration, development and distribution of the waters and hydel power of its rivers are completely controlled and worked by the Centre. This being the insurmountable hurdle in relation to water and hydel power, and consequently in regard to agriculture and industry, the question of any political growth or autonomy in the State does not arise. Gaining advantage of trading facilities apart, Sikhs have felt that hardly has a colonial power ever diverted the natural wealth of a state in the manner done under the P.R. Act.

Three aspects of the water and hydel power dispute are impor­tant. First, that the facts indicate that there has been a calculated plan to denude Punjab and its people of its natural wealth and thereby seriously to jeopardise the economic, industrial and agri­cultural destiny of the State. The facts show that apart from the arrest of its socio-economic growth, the State seriously faces cala­mities affecting the irrigation and production of its lands and, con­sequently, the economic well-being of its people. The second aspect is that the political fate and status of the State stands arres­ted or sealed. It can hardly have any hope of growth unless the provisions of the Punjab Reorganisation Act and decisions made there under are undone and the political fetters broken. In the present State its fate is worse than that of a colony which is nor­mally allowed periodical doses of liberation. The third dismal aspect of the Punjab problem is that when facts are seen in their nakedness and the realities understood, it becomes clear enough that after every Government decision or agreement, the Centre made its strangulating control over the politico-economic structures of Punjab increasingly tight and firm. There is nothing in the events of the last two decades that should give hope of any solution of the Punjab problem. Because a fair and constitutional solution of the water and hydel power dispute is necessary for resolving the Punjab issues and bringing about amity in the State. But so far, as we have seen, every step taken in this regard aimed towards a contrary direction.

Conclusion

The water and hydel power issue forms in every respect the core of Punjab problem. It has three funda­mental aspects which portray the conflicting approaches of the Sikhs on the one hand and the Centre on the other hand. The important fact we seek to emphasize is that unless the realities underlying the clash of interests are understood and resolved there can be no solution of the Punjab problem. For that matter, there has to be a perceptive change of policies and trends before peace, understanding and amity can be brought about in the State.

The first aspect of the water dispute is its ruinous economic impact and implications on the future of Punjab and its people. Following the Partition, the Sikhs were huddled together and con­fined to a few districts of Punjab. They became deprived of their lands which is the strength of a bold peasantry. The second blow is that about three fourth of the 22.5 M.A.F. waters available in the Punjab have been diverted to the non-riparian States. Apart from the recurring loss of industrial production and employment, the annual loss of agricultural production to Punjab and gain to Haryana and Rajasthan is about a billion dollars each year. In addition, in a single year the riparian Punjab suffered a loss of one billion dollars due to the floods. This denuding of the Punjab’s natural wealth and consequent annual production have been sought to be made permanent. To-day Punjab has been contributing over 60% of the annual grain reserves of India. But that is not because of its canal-irrigation. It is because of the initiative and invest­ment of the peasants in sinking over eight lac private tube-wells. Consequent to the over draw of the sub-soil water, the continu­ously falling water table has given a clear warning that by the end of the century, about three-fourth of the tubewell irrigated area would become barani and unproductive. The irony is that most of these trends are manmade. The first stage was the catastrophic formation, the biggest forced migration in human history, that deprived Punjabis of their hearths, homes and sources of sustenance. The second step in this direction was to ask the refugees to be content with what the Muslim migrants had left. The third blow came with the large scale transfer of the waters and hydel power to non-riparian States and to let the riparian Punjab suffer its natural fate of floods. The writing on the wall is too clear and bold to be ignored or misunderstood. It is difficult to deny that existing policy aims at virtual despoilation of the agricultural and industrial base of the State. The economic results are going to be catastro­phic unless the existing trends are reversed.

The second aspect of the issue is political. The Sikhs have a spirit of freedom and self-confidence, as also the capacity to struggle for socio-political values and independence. Today the key subjects of irrigation and hydel power which form the base both of agricultural and industrial development are in the Central hands. Unless the existing position is undone and the ceiling placed on political growth of the State is removed the question of gaining any further political autonomy or status does not arise. The State would, thus, continue to be politically a dwarf sub-state. Therefore, in Punjab the benefits, the welfare and healthy socio­political development that are the result of self-rule and political autonomy have become out of question. Instead, there have been frustration, malformations and conflicts. Everyone acquainted with the Sikh history and ethos could easily apprehend that these struggles and clash would be inevitable.

The third aspect which a study of this problem reveals is that whatever has happened, whatever decisions have been made and whatever results have ensued, have not been fortuitous but have been the result of calculated and well-planned policies that have been followed both with purpose and precision. We have seen that between 1947 and 1966 all steps, direct and indirect, were taken to see that the Punjabi Suba was not formed and the Sikhs did not have a homeland or an area where they could be in a slight majority. Second, when Punjabi Suba became inevitable, in apparent violation of the Constitution, Sections 78 to 80 were introduced, on the flimsy excuse of the Beas project, in order to be used later as a ruthless lever, on the one hand, to drain out the economic wealth of Punjab and, on the other hand, to stop its political growth permanently.

We have seen that, whereas the simple, unobjectionable and or.ly solution of the water and hydel power dispute was a reference to the Supreme Court, how every door of access to it was studiously barred so as to ensure that the judicial verdict was avoided. It is also evident how promptly the Centre acted whenever there was some possibility of a judicial consideration or decision. Ulti­mately, by a process of camouflage the verdict of the tribunal has been obtained with the evident desire permanently to exclude any approach to the Supreme Court. Of course, in making that reference, it could not amend the definition of an interstate dispute because Punjab rivers could net be defined as inter-state waters. That chink in the Central armour still exists. What we mean to say is how the Sections which to the outsider appeared innocuous and necessary for the purpose of the beas Project were employed increasingly to drain Punjab of its wealth and make the State politically ineffective. And while all these years these Stations were calculatedly employed to the detriment of the economic and political wellbeing of Punjab, the entire destructive process was kept camouflaged by raising the bogies of communalism, law and order, separatism, secessionism and terrorism.

Here we seek to stress three points. The first that by allegedly transferring water of Punjab rivers to Rajasthan, the Central Government has not at all served national interests, because use of the water in Punjab co-aid have been far more pro­ductive to the nation. This would seem to suggest that first priority in the matter was the damage the diversion would cause to Punjab and not the production that would accrue to Rajasthan. The second point is that by transferring water and hydel power to Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi and giving them unconstitutionally gotten gains, the Centre has made those States and their people the hostile rivals of Punjab and its people, because any return of those un-wanted benefits to Punjab would be seriously resisted and resented by the people of those States. Thus artificially a regular schism has been created between the people of different States of the country. Further, we find that the judicial channel through which that drain and exploitation could be stopped without raising the back of any state, has studiously been closed. As it is, the channels and lines to carry the wealth of Punjab to non-­riparian States are rapidly sought to be made a fait accompli. The third point we emphasise is that whatever has happened has followed a planned process of studied decisions. Therefore, unless there is a clear and well recognised policy to undo the existing direction and trends, there can neither be a solution of the pro­blem nor any hope in that direction.

References

  1. Quoted in Council of Sikh Affairs, Chandigarh; The Punjab River—Water Dispute (Chandigarh, n.d.), P. 5.
  2. Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966, P2. 38-39.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Government of Punjab, RaviBeas Agreement 1981, White Paper (Chandigarh, 1982), Annexture-II.
  5. Michel, Arthur Aloys: Indus Rivers (1967) PP. 330-32.
  6. Government of Punjab; RaviBeas Agreement 1981, White Paper (Chandigarh, 1982), Appendix-II.
  7. The Tribune, January 1, 3, 4, 5, 1982.
  8. Council of Sikh Affairs; op. cit, P. 7.
  9. The Tribune, November 30, December 1, 2, 1983; The Indian Express, November 26, 27, 1983.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Gullati, N. D.; Development of Inter-State Rivers (New Delhi, 1972). P.  213.
  12. Council of Sikh Affairs, Impact of The Electricity Agreement 1984 (Chandigarh, 1984). PP. 3-4.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Amarinder Singh; ‘Rivers Issue: Beyond Eradi Report’ in The Tribune, June 26, 1987.
  16. Government of India; Punjab Settlement (New Delhi, 1985), Clause 9.
  17. The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, February 19, 1988.
  18. Ibid.
  19. The Tribune, August 3, 1990.
  20. Dhillon, G. S.; ‘Before The Well Runs Dry’ in The Tribune, March 15, 1990;

           Dhillon, G. S.; ‘Heading For Ruin’ in The Tribune, January 31, 1991;

           Dhillon, G. S.; ‘Slow Poison From Ludhiana Taps’ in The Tribune, February 14, 1991.

  1. Ibid.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Dhillon. G. S.; ‘Before The Well Runs Dry’ in The Tribune, March 15, 1990.
  4. Council of Sikh Affairs; Punjab River—Water Dispute (Chandigarh, n.d.), P. 44.
  5. Ibid.

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