J. Venkatesan

Punjab Act violated provisions of the Constitution: Haryana

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court will hear in July the Presidential reference on Constitutional validity of the Punjab Act terminating water agreements with the neighbouring States on the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal.

The President also sought its opinion on whether the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act discharged the State from the two apex court judgments directing construction of the canal.

A Bench comprising Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices R.V. Raveendran and D.K. Jain posted the matter to July 17, when the Court will fix a date for hearing by a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Presidential reference made in 2004.

Badal's statement

Senior counsel Vinod Bobde, appearing for Haryana, referred to Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal's recent statement, soon after assuming office, that his State would delete Section 5 of the Act, which pertained to sharing of waters. However, senior counsel for Punjab, Rajeev Dhavan, said, "We stand by the Section."

Haryana said the Act violated the provisions of the Constitution as well as the basic principles and tenets on federalism and the rule of law.

"The Act lacks legislative competence and is a colourable piece of legislation intended only to project a flimsy legal cover for Punjab to continue with its defiant and contumacious conduct against the apex court and the Constitution."

"Erroneous assumption"

Haryana said Punjab's assumption that the waters of the Ravi and the Beas belonged solely to it was erroneous. "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."

"Inter-State agreements come into being by reason of negotiation and the consent of all the parties thereto," Haryana added.

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 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 urged the Court to declare the Punjab Act unconstitutional.

"Bad precedent," says Delhi

Delhi, which also dubbed the Act unconstitutional, said, "It 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."

Punjab's stand

Punjab asserted that its obligation in construction of the SYL canal stood discharged under its law. The Act of 2004 did not disturb the existing actual utilisation by Haryana and Rajasthan of 1.62 million acre feet (MAF), byRajasthan of 7.2 MAF for drinking water supplies and by the National Capital Territory of 0.2 MAF. The Punjab Government was competent to enact the legislation as Parliament had not made any law under the Union List insofar as Ravi and Beas waters were concerned.