SC verdict on controversial Punjab Termination of Agreements Act this week

Punjab Termination of Agreements Act

New Delhi: In the middle of Punjab Election campaign the Supreme Court is set to give its opinion on the Presidential reference over the validity of the controversial Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004, this week.

A five-member Constitution Bench headed by Justice Anil R Dave, had concluded hearing arguments on the issue on May 12. The other members of the Bench are Justices PC Ghose, AK Goel and Amitava Roy. The case involves sharing of Ravi-Beas river waters primarily between Punjab and Haryana, besides Rajasthan, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Chandigarh.

On March 17, the Bench had directed the Punjab Government and the Centre to maintain status quo on the land acquired for the construction of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal, thus stalling the move to return it to the farmers.

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The Bench passed the order on Haryana’s plea for appointing the Centre as the court receiver of the land to prevent Punjab from returning about 4,000 acres of land to the farmers under a law passed in the Assembly on March 14.

Haryana had filed an application against the move to return the land acquired for the SYL canal, pleading for its hearing along with the Presidential reference on the 2004 PTA Act under which Punjab had unilaterally terminated its inter-state river water sharing agreements.

Haryana pleaded that Punjab had enacted the 2004 Act to nullify the SC verdicts for the completion of the SYL canal and deny it its share of the Ravi-Beas waters, while the 2016 Act was meant to render the Presidential reference irrelevant. Punjab, however, pleaded that since the SC verdicts on SYL were no longer valid in view of the 2004 Act, the 2016 legislation for return of SYL land did not violate any SC order.

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The tribunal was necessary to decide the eligibility and entitlement of each state to share the Ravi-Beas waters, going by the rights of riparian states and the reduced flow in these two rivers.The Centre, however, pleaded Punjab could not defend its 2004 Act as well as seek a fresh tribunal. Declaring the Act valid would render meaningless the two SC judgments for completion of the SYL canal as well as Punjab’s plea for a fresh tribunal.

If Punjab wanted to terminate its water sharing agreements, where was the need for a tribunal, the Centre said. It, however, clarified that it was taking a neutral stand on the dispute.

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Haryana has requested the Bench to keep alive its status quo order on SYL land even after giving its opinion on the Presidential reference. Punjab wants constitution of a fresh tribunal to ascertain the present flow of water.