For political convenience, Badal changes track on Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL)

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Chandigarh, March 21: Punjab Chief Minister and Shiromani Akali Dal patron Parkash Singh Badal may be trying to project himself as the saviour of Punjab on the row over water sharing with neighbouring Haryana and the construction of the SYL canal, but the latest move by his government is in stark contradiction to the stand taken nearly four decades ago.

Badal and the government he heads may now be trying to go overboard to give an impression that they are willing to make any "sacrifice" to prevent giving water from Punjab's rivers to neighbouring states, but the reality is that Badal's earlier government, in 1978, had issued the notification for the construction of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal.

Why Badal changed track on SYL

Sources in the government told IANS that Badal, whose personal and family relations with then Haryana chief minister Devi Lal were well known, was heading the government which accepted the first cheque of money from the Haryana government in 1978.

He (Badal) did so to keep the towering Haryana leader in good humour despite having opposed in 1976 then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who okayed the award of more water to Haryana (3.5 MAF each to Haryana and Punjab).The Badal government, on February 20, 1978, had issued two notifications (113/5/SYL and 121/5/SYL) under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act. On July 4, 1978, through letter number 7/78-IW(I)-78/23617, the Punjab government had raised a demand of Rs.3 crore from Haryana to acquire land for the SYL canal construction, the sources pointed out.

The Badal government, on March 31, 1979, accepted the first instalment of Rs.1 crore from Haryana to acquire land.

Badal, in his latest move, sent a cheque of Rs.390 crore, received from Haryana nearly four decades back to build the SYL canal, to Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. Khattar refused to accept the cheque and said the move by Badal "exposed the thoughtlessness and complete disregard of all canons of financial propriety in sending it in the first instance".

This move will have "serious implications on the lives of millions of Haryanvis" and "merely discloses a certain decision of your Council of Ministers and your consequent act of enclosing the cheque", Khattar said in an angry retort to Badal's letter.

The Haryana government, which is opposing all moves by the Badal government to invoke legislative process to prevent sharing of water through the SYL canal, had even stated that the "Punjab government should proactively stop the completely unlawful acts of filling up of the SYL Canal in Punjab territory".

Badal, who faces the next assembly polls in about 11 months, is now hell-bent on using the legislative route, even at the cost of defying the Supreme Court, to prevent the revival of the SYL canal and sharing water with Haryana.

He not only moved a resolution last week to de-notify the acquisition of the land acquired for the SYL construction nearly four decades ago but also moved another one to circumvent the SC order this week on status quo being maintained on the SYL issue.

Haryana's main opposition party, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), led by Devi Lal's son Om Prapash Chautala and other family members, has announced its decision to snap ties with the Akali Dal, which were there for the past several decades, after the latest move by the Badal government and the Akali Dal on the SYL issue.

The Devi Lal government, in late 1970s, had allotted prime land to the Badal family in Gurgaon where the Badals run a high-end five-star resort and hotel.

Defending the then Badal government for the 1978 notification, Akali Dal leader Virsa Singh Valtoha told IANS: "Chief Minister Badal had no idea about the notification. The officers did this at their own level."

The Congress party, which is trying to "expose" Badal's contradictory stand on the SYL issue, has alleged that Badal and the Akali Dal were only trying to fool people on the SYL issue.

"Badal was in power when the notification was issued. For the past many years, Badal is trying to fool people. He enacted the drama of meeting the Governor (Kaptan Singh Solanki) to seek assent for the recent Bill (on de-notifying the SYL Canal land) when the copy of the bill passed by the state assembly had not even reached the governor," Congress leader Bir Devinder Singh pointed out.

The SYL Canal, which was to link two major rivers (Sutlej and Yamuna) in Punjab and Haryana, was planned and major portions of it were completed in the 1990s at a cost of over Rs.750 crore.

It is entangled in a political and legal quagmire with the Punjab and Haryana states unwilling to give up their respective stand on the controversial canal issue and sharing of river waters.

IANS

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