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Political Shenanigans

Political parties in their struggle for freedom of India had one common objective: to get rid of the British colonial rule. They held variant views of the post-independence map of the country. The National Congress Party (M.K.Gandhi, Jawahar Lal Nehru) envisaged Indians becoming rulers of the geographical intact India whereas Muslim League (Mohd. Ali Jinnah) demanded setting up two countries: Pakistan, comprising of provinces where Muslims were in majority and India extending over the rest of British India. The Shiromani Akali Dal (Master Tara Singh) which is the most representative party of Sikhs who almost all of them lived in Punjab opposed Muslim League’s concept of Pakistan embracing whole Punjab. The Akalis agitated that if India was at all to be divided, then Punjab be divided too on the basis of Muslim non-Muslim population. Spurning all allurements of honourable political status offered by the Muslim League, the Akalis (Sikhs) opted for India and not in favor of Pakistan. Resultantly, Pakistan territory was limited to Ravi, otherwise, it could be riparian to Yamuna and touching Delhi. Master Tara Singh was proclaimed saviour and icon of Hindus and Sikhs and a pillar of Indian nationalism.

One of the most prominent policy planks of the Congress which spearheaded the struggle for freedom was the reorganization of the freed country on linguistic basis to enable various segments of the people to develop their language and culture. After India attained freedom, the Congress took reign of the country and set about organizing various provinces (States) of India on linguistic basis. Queerly, the organization of a Punjabi speaking state was denied though Punjabi is an important language of India and one of the prominent languages in the world. Punjabi speaking people agitated for the creation of Punjabi Suba (province or State of Punjabi speaking people) and the Sikhs (overwhelming majority of their total population live in Punjab), whose mother tongue is Punjabi like that of the other Punjabis, were in the vanguard of the Punjabi Suba agitation. The Sikhs had cast their lot with Indian Punjab entailing massive loss of half of their community’s assets at the time of India’s partition and displacement of one-third of their community from their homes and hearths in Pakistan besides irreparable loss of lakhs of human lives. The Sikhs consider Punjab as their home land. Their religion originated and developed in Punjab, their sacred scriptures were revealed/compiled in Punjab, their holiest places including Darbar Sahib, Amritsar are in Punjab, their language and culture are product of Punjab, they have ploughed its farms and defended its boundaries as its noble sons. No doubt Punjab is the religious, spiritual, social, political and economic land of the Sikhs.

Appeals of the Sikh leaders who had fought shoulder to shoulder with other national leaders to heed their pleadings went waste. The Congress leaders reneged on their assurances made to the Sikhs during the freedom struggle and disdainfully turned down Punjabis’ demand for the reorganization of Punjab State on linguistic basis. Many a language-related agitation ensued and the State was engulfed in another turmoil when it hardly recovered from its sufferings in wake of country’s partition. The Sikhs construed all this as highly discriminatory and Government’s lack of faith in them. Ultimately finding it too difficult to deny the genuine demand for the formation of Punjabi Suba (Punjabi Speaking State), Government of India reluctantly though not with genuine change of heart, agreed to the reorganization of the State of Punjab on the basis of spoken language. While implementing the scheme of Punjabi Suba with effect from November 1,1966, the Central Government did not act with grace but rather with feeling of hurt. So, instead of accomplishing a settlement of lasting worth, the Government while enacting the Punjab Reorganization Act,1966 inserted certain provisions tending to make explicit provisions of the Constitution murkier and confusing to unwary reader by subtly interweaving texts and sub-texts, theoretical reasoning and contestable facts. All this would keep the impasse lingering.

For example, capital of the reorganized State of Punjab, its High Court and chunks of Punjabi speaking areas have been kept outside its territory. Punjab’s river dams and hydropower stations have been put under the control of the Central Government and Punjab has been twitchingly hooked to Delhi even for its routine administration. As if all this is not enough to let Punjab suffer stoically its humiliating status of a sub-State least at par with other Indian states, 75% of Punjab’s river waters were unconstitutionally allotted to neighboring non-riparian States of Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi in a nonchalant regard for the dire needs of water in Punjab itself.

Invoking the provisions of Section 78 of the Punjab Reorganization Act, 1966, the Central Government vide notification of 24.03.76 made allocation of the Punjab river waters on the basis of 1921-45 flow series as under.

Haryana: 3.5 MAF
Punjab: 3.5 MAF
Rajasthan: 8.0 MAF
Delhi: 0.2 MAF
J & K: 0.65 MAF

Total 15.85 MAF

It was not acceptable to Punjab. Its Chief Minister Zail Singh, a protégé of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was mortally afraid of her. To save his face and ward off people’s wrath against her party and after obtaining her acquiescent nod through P.N.Huskar, he wrote to the Prime Minister to kindly reconsider the decision. Thus he maneuvered to express his disapproval of the notification as also its rejection by the people of Punjab. Haryana was keen to have the decision implemented. A sum of one crore rupees was sent by Haryana Government to Punjab during Zail Singh’s tenure and another sum of two crore rupees when Pakash Singh Badal was Chief Minister for starting construction of SYL canal but all this did not lead to implementation of 24.03.76 decision. Haryana approached the new Prime Minister Morarji Desai for his intercession. He called the Chief Ministers of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan at Delhi and sought Haryana C.M.’s help to show him the course of Satluj, Beas and Ravi. Learning that none of these river was riparian to Haryana or Rajasthan, Prime Minister blandly told their Chief Ministers that they had no claim on any water from Punjab. Stunned, Haryana Government filed a suit (O.S. No.1of 1979) in the Supreme Court seeking injunction for the implementation of the 24.03.76 notification. Punjab Government also filed a counter suit (OS. No. 2 of 1979) challenging, inter alia, the vires of Section 78 of the Punjab Reorganization Act, 1966 under which the notification was issued.

When Mrs. Indira Ghandhi’s election to Parliament was annulled in an election petition, she did not quit office. Setting aside all constitutional norms, she continued to rule over India under proclamation of Emergency by suspending the Constitution. Leaders of various political parties were put behind the bars. People rose in massive protest against the Emergency rule. Shiromani Akali Dal was in forefront of the anti-Emergency agitation. Indira Gandhi lost in the Parliamentary elections of March 1977 and her party could get only 17 of the 117 seats in the June 1977 elections to Punjab Assembly. She was returned to power at the Center in Parliament elections of January 1980. She was wrathful against the Akali leadership for their opposition to her measures. She sacked the Prakash Singh Ministry of Punjab in February 1980 though he enjoyed overwhelming support in the State legislature. In the June 1980 elections to Punjab Assembly, Congress attained majority and Indira Gandhi appointed her nominee Darbara Singh as Chief Minister. Her regaining power as Prime Minister was big relief to Haryana. The cases of Haryana and Punjab were lingering before the Supreme Court and knowing that Punjab had a strong case in the Supreme Court, the Prime Minister hastened to hammer out the agreement of 31.12.81 which apportioned the Punjab river waters on the basis of changed flow series 1921-60 as under.

Punjab 4.22 MAF
Haryana 3.50 MAF Rajasthan 8.60 MAF
Delhi .20 MAF
J&K .65 MAF
Total 17.17 MAF

Exuberant at her election victory, sacking of the non-Congress ministries in states, endorsement of her 31.12.81 division of Punjab waters and vociferously egged on by Chief Minister of Haryana, Indira Gandhi in a triumphalist mode proceeded to inaugurate the digging of SYL canal on April 8, 1982 at village Kapuri in Patiala District. Shiromani Akali Dal and Communist Party (Marxist) too organized a mammoth protest rally led by Akali leaders Harchand Singh Longowal, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, Prakash Singh Badal, Surjit Singh Barnala and Communist (Marxist) leaders Jagjit Singh Lyallpuri and Comrade Balwant Singh at nearby village Ghanaur to express rejection of the 31-12-81 agreement. A long drawn agitation termed Nahar Roko (Stop digging of canal) ensued. Later on it coalesced into Dharam Yudh Morcha (Save Sikh Religion Crusade) run by the Akalis. Communist Party (Marxist) withdrew from the morcha agitation after it was merged into Dharam Yudh morcha by the Akali leadership. About three lakh people courted arrest in this morcha up to June 1984. Its important mile-stones were Rasta Roko (stop road traffic) of April 4,1983, Rail Roko (stop rail traffic) of June17, 1983, Kam Roko (stop work) of August 29,1983 and burning of Article 25 of the Constitution on February 27,1984.

Considering that it would be better to administer Punjab under President’s rule, the Central Government sacked Darabara Singh Ministry on October 6, 1983. B.D. Pandey was appointed Governor of Punjab. He was a reputed bureaucrat of sound credentials and had performed creditably as Governor, West Bengal and Cabinet Secretary, Government of India. His appointment was well received in Punjab circles and it kindled high hopes of resolution of the Punjab tangle. He earnestly set about placing things in place. In the long run his perception and approach towards solution were not whole-heartedly supported by the Central Government which was gearing up for an army action in the Golden Temple Complex (Darbar Sahib). Gurdev Singh*, Deputy Commissioner, Amritsar plainly told the Government in no uncertain terms: ‘Any sort of army action was unwarranted, unnecessary and it would serve no administrative or national interest. It will entail grave aftermath. Some mistakes get redressed with passage of time but this (army attack on Darbar Sahib) will be such a horrendous blunder that would not be forgotten or rectified even with the passage of two centuries’. Chief Secretary K.D. Vasudeva and Governor B.D. Pandey were not in favour of army action on Darbar Sahib and had advised the Central Government to settle the imbroglio through sagacious deliberations. The Central Government went ahead with its plan of attack on Darbar Sahib (called Operation Blue Star) in June 1984. Before that Deputy Commissioner, Amritsar quit his assignment and subsequently Chief Secretary and Governor also moved out from their positions. Here it may be pertinently stated that army assistance for the civil administration could be sought by the District Magistrate (D.C.) or Punjab Government. The District Magistrate never asked for army help and stance of the head of the administration (Chief Secretary) and head of the Government/State (Governor) is stated above. Then on what basis the Central Government made the critical decision of army attack on Darbar Sahib can be explained by mandarins at Delhi? The Central Government carried out the Operation Blue Star and its aftermath was simply devastating for not only Punjab but whole India entailing incalculable loss of property and lives including that of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, President Shiromani Akali Dal Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, Head of the Damdami Taksal Sant Jarnail Singh Bhinderwale and ex-Army Chief of India Gen. A.K. Vaidya. These losses notwithstanding, various issues concerning Punjab, including of its river waters, rankled on.

After the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 31.10.1984, her son Rajiv Gandhi became the next Prime Minister. Efforts at finding some solutions were resumed and these culminated in the signing of Rajiv-Longowal Accord (Punjab Settlement) on July 24,1985. Paragraph 9 of this accord regarding the issue of allotment of river waters is as under :

“9.1 The farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan will continue to get water not less than what they are using from the Ravi-Beas system as on 1.7.1985.Waters used for consumptive purposes will also remain unaffected. Quantum of usage claimed shall be verified by the Tribunal referred to in para 9.2 below;

9.2. The claims of Punjab and Haryana regarding the shares in their remaining waters will be referred for adjudication to a Tribunal to be presided over by a Supreme Court Judge. The decision of this Tribunal will be rendered within six months and would be binding on both parties. All legal and constitutional steps in this respect to be taken expeditiously;

9.3 The construction of the SYL Canal shall continue. The canal shall be completed by 15th August 1986.”

On August 20, 985, Harchand Singh Longowal was shot dead in village Sherpur near Sangrur. Surjit Singh Barnala became President of Shiromani Akali Dal (Longowal) on August 25. Pursuant to the elections to the Punjab Assembly held in September, 1985, Surjit Singh Barnala became Chief Minister, Punjab on September 29.09.85. The Punjab Assembly through a resolution on November 5, 1985 repudiated the 31-12-81 agreement as also the 24-7-85 settlement.

All this notwithstanding, construction of SYL canal was taken up. Opposition to the construction of the canal was expressed through large scale protests. After 1988, the anger of the people took violent turn and many people related to the construction including a Chief Engineer, two engineers and two contractors were killed. Resultantly the construction of the canal came to stand still.

The Government of India constituted an Inter-state Water Disputes Tribunal (Eradi Tribunal) on April 2, 1986 for verification and adjudication of the matters referred to in Paragraphs 9.1 and 9.2 of the Punjab Settlement. The Tribunal made a preliminary report on January 30, 1987. In this report, the Tribunal unwarrantedly verified usage of Punjab as 3.106 MAF by taking average of five years when it was commissioned to determine usage on specified date i.e. July 1, 1985.

If the usage of water as on 1.07.85 had been reckoned, it would have been 9.6 MAF for Punjab. The Tribunal without any justification found the agreements of 29.01.1955 and 31.12.81 worth acting upon. The Tribunal considered it unnecessary to examine the legality and validity of the 24.03.76 Central Government notification. The Tribunal rendered the entire exercise redundant by proceeding to protect the allocations under untenable agreements instead of determining the usage of water as on July 1, 1985 as required under the terms of the notification. Punjab Government’s application of 19.8.1987 under Section 5(3) of Inter-state River Water Disputes Act, 1956 is pending before the Tribunal as also a reference from Government of India seeking some clarification. So far the Tribunal has not given its award. No notification has been issued by the Government of India for publication of the Tribunal’s report. Thus so far there is no award to be enforced. Surjit Singh Barnala Ministry was sacked on May 11, 1987 and Punjab continued to be under President’s rule till February 1992. In sham elections to the Punjab Assembly at which hardly 10% of voter cast their votes, Congress was returned to power and Beant Singh became Chief Minister in February 1992. After his assassination on August 31, 1995, Harcharan Singh Brar and Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, both of Congress, functioned as Chief Ministers. None of them implemented the Center’s decision regarding digging the SYL canal. Akali Dal regained power in the February 1997 Punjab Assembly elections. Prakash Singh Badal became Chief Minister once again. He was vehemently opposed to the allocation of Punjab waters to non-riparian States. Haryana filed a suit (O.S. No.6 of 1996) in 1996 in the Supreme Court seeking a decree for the implementation of 31.12.81 agreement and paragraph 9 of the 24.07.85 settlement for the construction of SYL canal. The State of Punjab challenged the maintainability of Haryana suit on various grounds. A Division Bench of the Supreme Court vide its order of January 15, 2002 decreed the suit in favour of Haryana observing inter-alia, ‘that the suit was not a water dispute ——————— the State of Haryana with the digging of the canal would be able to draw the full quantity of water that has been already allotted to it under the agreement’. Is there any doubt about the self-contrariness of the Division Bench order? In the study of nature of human thought a traditionally assumed prominent rule of logic is: prohibition against contradiction— a proposition can’t be both true and false. Does not DB order intend to posit a different postulate? When the very vires of the apparently unconstitutional provisions of Section 78 of the Punjab Reorganization Act, 1966 were impugned was it not incumbent upon the Central Government Tribunal and the Division Bench to have the matter decided from the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court to protect the integrity of the Constitution?

A few days after the DB order of 15.01.02, Prakash Singh Badal quit consequent to the defeat of his Akali party in the elections to Punjab Assembly. Congress got majority and its leader Amarinder Singh became new Chief Minister in February 2002. He is also opposed to the distribution of Punjab waters as per the aforesaid arrangements. The State of Punjab has filed a suit (No. 1 of 2003) in January 2003 in the Supreme Court seeking discharge of Punjab State from any obligation to construct SYL canal as decreed by the Supreme Court. Once again Punjab has challenged the constitutional vires of Section 78 of the Punjab Reorganization Act, 1966, and the newly inserted Section 14 of the Inter-state River Water Disputes Act, 1956. Futility and frivolousness of the terms set in the 31.12.81 agreement and Central Government notification of 24.03.76 are apparent from plain reading of paras 15 to 21 of Chapter II (reproduced below) of the White Paper on Punjab Agitation issued by the Central Government on July 10,1984.

(a) River waters
15. The agreement on the allocation of surplus waters of Ravi-Beas reached in December 1981 was the result of exhaustive discussions among the representatives of the Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan Governments and of the Central Government. Later water flow series showed the availability of Ravi-Beas surplus waters to be 17.17 MAF against the earlier estimated availability of 15.85 MAF. This meant that some additional quantity of water became allocable to pre-partition Punjab which could be shared between Punjab and Haryana. According to the 1981 agreement the additional water allocable to pre-partition Punjab was allotted to Punjab alone. In the final allocation made between the two States under the 1981 agreement the share of Punjab was raised to 4.22 MAF and the share of Haryana was retained at 3.5o MAF. In addition, out of Rajasthan’s share, until such time as Rajasthan was in a position to utilise its full share, Punjab was allowed to use water which was surplus to Rajasthan’s requirements.

16. During the tripartite talks held in January-February 1983 in New Delhi, the representatives of the Akali Dal pressed their view that the allocation of waters under the 1955 agreement between pre-partition Punjab and Rajasthan should be reopened on the ground that Rajasthan had been given more than it was entitled to.

17. It was pointed out to the representatives of the Akali Dal that after the partition of’ India, the distribution of waters of the rivers of the Punjab remained an unresolved issue between India and Pakistan, and Pakistan had argued that India was not in a position to utilise the waters it claimed. The settlement about India’s share of Indus waters was reached accepting the validity of India’s claim that water would be utilised to irrigate the arid and dry lands of the Indus basin in Rajasthan. On the basis of the Agreement of 1955, Rajasthan has built a vast infrastructure at a cost of over Rs. 600 crores (Rs. 6,000 million) and therefore it was explained that it would not be correct to reopen this issue nearly three decades after the agreement. In the tripartite meetings held in early February, 1983, to which Akali Dal representatives were a party, a consensus emerged that the 1955 agreement should not be re-opened in any reference that may be made to a tribunal for the settlement of the River Waters dispute between Punjab and Haryana.

18. During the discussions on the river waters dispute the representatives of the Akali Dal have been insisting that Yamuna waters should also be taken into account. Punjab’s rights as a successor State of the erstwhile undivided Punjab have been delineated under the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966 in which the waters of Yamuna are not included and the Government therefore maintained that the Yamuna waters were not an issue to be included in the terms of reference to the tribunal.

19. After a series of protracted discussions and taking into account the views of the States of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan the following formula for settling the river waters issue was put to the Akali Dal representatives

(1) The agreement of December 31, 1981 between the Governments of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan regarding allocation of surplus flows of the Ravi-Beas will be treated as rescinded. The notification of the Government of India, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, Department of Irrigation, dated March 24, 1976 under Sub-Section (1) of Section 78 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act,1966 will be treated as withdrawn.

(2) The dispute between Punjab and Haryana with reference to the surplus waters of Ravi-Beas will be referred to a tribunal presided over by a judge of the Supreme Court to be appointed under the Inter-state Water Disputes Act, 1956, to determine afresh the allocation between the two States.

(3) Pending the final decision of the tribunal, the allocation of water between Punjab and Haryana will be decided on a year to year basis by the said tribunal.

(4) The Tribunal will be requested to give its decision within a period of two years. The decision of the tribunal shall be final and binding on the two States.

(5) Punjab shall take immediate steps to construct the Satluj- Yaruna canal and complete it within a period of two years.

(6) Suitable legal and administrative steps will be taken expeditiously to implement the above.

20. However, later the Akali Dal representatives resiled from the consensus reached earlier and took the stand that the scope of the reference to the tribunal should cover the 1955 agreement with Rajasthan and the question of the Yamuna waters. Obviously, this is unacceptable to the Central Government as well as to the Governments of Haryana and Rajasthan.

21. In one of the meetings with the representatives of the Akali Dal, the Prime Minister had assured them that the interests of Punjab would not be affected and she suggested that a committee of experts should go into the whole question of augmenting the availability of water in the basin and that Government would give priority consideration to its recommendations. Even these assurances had no effect in changing the rigid position of the Akali Dal representatives on this issue.

This also shows that the Shiromani Akali Dal opposed the arrangements crafted in 1955, on 24.03.76 and 31.12.81. It makes amply clear that the Central Government has been conscious about fatal flaws in dispensations wrought by it and was using these as handy tools to achieve sway of its political edicts in utter disregard of governmental propriety to guard integrity of the Constitution and national interests.

Much is said about the not very dignified conduct of various Punjab Chief Ministers regarding their occasional acquiescence to the digging of the canal. Assuming some of them were not sure-footed and vacillated, why only tip of the arc of their oscillating conduct-pendulum pointing to some possible inference adverse to Punjabi be highlighted rejecting outrightly the rest of the entire arc of their conduct which is consistent, glaring and complete repudiation of claims of non-riparian States on Punjab’s waters? Why is compliance with paragraph 9 of Rajiv-Longowal accord insisted upon pushing all the rest ten paragraphs of this package deal aside? Reality is that pursuant to the passage of Punjab Assembly resolution of 05.11.85, 31.12.81 agreement and 24.07.85 settlement stand repudiated.

About two-thirds of the total population of Sikhs (24 million including diaspora) reside in Punjab. They constitute about this very ratio of Punjab’s and 2.2% of India’s population. Punjab is the only State in which Sikhs are in majority. They feel they are subjected to unconcealed and unconcealable discrimination and humiliation religiously, linguistically, culturally, socially, economically and mentally. Their very identity is sought to be extinguished. In the laws governing birth and death, marriage, succession, adoption, etc, etc they are made subject to The Hindu Birth and Death Act ,1956, The Hindu Succession Act, 1956; The Hindu Marriage Act, 1956; The Hindu Adoption Act, 1956. They are termed as Hindus in various laws. Their recruitment to armed forces is restricted. Laws which are clearly violative of the Constitution of India are framed to harm Sikhs .Their effort to seek justice from the Supreme Court of India are strictly controlled/restricted/thwarted. Enactment of certain provisions in the Punjab Reorganization Act, 1966 is just an instance vide which the State of Punjab has been deprived of its constitutional right to control and use its river waters and hydel power. If and when Punjabis try to approach the Supreme Court, they are debarred from doing so through ruthless use of political and administrative mechanism. Then what reason have the Punjabis to lend their credence to the administrative system that has proved so obdurate and so resistant to their pleas at every point?




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