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SYL canal row: Haryana seeks rejection of Presidential reference

By J. Venkatesan

NEW DELHI, SEPT. 20. The Supreme Court today asked the Centre and the States of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi to file statements/additional statements within four weeks in response to a notice on the Presidential reference on the validity of the Punjab Act terminating its water agreements.

A five-judge Constitution Bench, comprising the Chief Justice R.C. Lahoti, Justice N. Santosh Hegde, Justice Y.K. Sabharwal, Justice Ruma Pal and Justice S. N. Variava, directed that the reference be listed for further hearing after six weeks. The President had sought the Court's opinion on the constitutional validity of the Punjab law and had also asked whether the Act had discharged the State from the two Supreme Court judgments directing the construction of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal.

Direction to A-G

The Bench also asked the Attorney-General, Milon Banerjee, to study the affidavits and documents filed by the States on the issue and if required, advise the Centre to file a response.

While Punjab justified the enactment of the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004,

Haryana and Delhi had described it as unconstitutional. Delhi, however, sought time to file a detailed affidavit on the issue. Haryana said the Punjab Act violated the provisions of the Constitution as well as the basic principles and tenets concerning federalism and rule of law. It said: "The Act lacks legislative competence and is a colourable piece of legislation intended only to project a flimsy legal cover for the State of Punjab to continue with its defiant and contumacious conduct against the apex court and the Constitution."

Haryana said that Punjab's fundamental assumption was erroneous, viz that the waters of the Ravi and the Beas belonged solely to Punjab. "No State is competent to legislate in respect of water-disputes or water-sharing agreements and hence [the] Punjab Act is inconsistent with the Inter State Water Disputes Act of 1956."

It said: "Inter-State agreements come into being by reason of negotiation and the consent of all the parties hitherto. They cannot be resiled from or terminated by one of the party-States much less abrogated with retrospective effect as if they never existed. The purported termination of the agreements of 1955 and 1981 by the Punjab Act is ineffective in law and impermissible under the Constitution."

`Act of lawlessness'

"The Punjab Act is a brazen act of lawlessness and anarchy which, if followed as an example by other States, would inevitably lead to the destruction of the principle of cooperative federalism and the disintegration of India," Haryana said and urged the court to declare the Punjab Act unconstitutional.

Delhi said that the Punjab Act "sets a bad precedent which, if followed by other States supplying water to Delhi, would seriously impair the water supply system in the National Capital Territory of Delhi affecting the life and liberty of the people."

Seeking time for filing additional documents, it said that the material pertaining to various agreements and their implementation was very old and that the entire material needed to be placed before the court so that the full implication of the problem could be appreciated.

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