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Editorial Today – Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal Dispute

Brinkmanship over a limited dispute


It is about Satluj-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal dispute between Haryana and Punjab.

What is the Satluj-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal dispute?

  • On December 31,1981 Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan agreed to share water of Ravi, Beas and Satluj between them. This agreement also mentioned that the water would be shared with Delhi and J&K.
  • It was agreed that Punjab would make the Satluj-Yamuna Link canal within the state within a time period of two years.
  • Majority portion of the SYL canal was complete in the 1990 but somehow the project did not get over with.
  • With the rise in terrorism in Punjab, the SYL canal became a debatable topic and the politicians started fighting about the water-sharing.
  • However, the Supreme Court, in January 2002, ordered Punjab to move along with the digging of the SYL canal and passed a judgment by which the canal should be completed within a year time.
  • In 2004, the Punjab assembly made the earlier agreement null and void through Punjab Termination of Agreements Act 2004 and declined to give any water to any other states, especially to Haryana.
  • On July 22, 2004, the Centre sought the Supreme Court’s opinion on the validity of the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act by making a Presidential reference under Article 143 of the Constitution.
  • The matter was eventually taken up for hearing by the Supreme Court thus Punjab assembly passed the Punjab Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal Land (Transfer of Property Rights) Bill, 2016 and tried to cancel the land acquisition  for the SYL canal and return it to farmers if they paid back the compensation.
  • Supreme Court passed an order to maintain status quo.

What is Eradi Tribunal?

  • The Punjab Settlement was signed on July 24, 1985, in New Delhi between then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief Sant Harcharan Singh Longowal. The accord included provisions related to the Ravi-Beas water sharing. It was agreed that the construction of the SYL Canal would be completed by August 15, 1986; claims of Punjab and Haryana regarding their shares in the remaining water would be referred for adjudication by a tribunal presided over by a Supreme Court judge. A tribunal under Justice V Balakrishna Eradi was set up that year.
  • Thus it was entrusted with the task to specify the quantum of Ravi-Beas waters to be distributed among Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.

Why is Punjab against the SYL canal?

  • Punjab states that the SYL share of water to Haryana was based on the 1920 figures and at present the figure presents an all together different picture.

What is Haryana’s argument?

  • The Haryana claims lies on the theory that it is a water-deficient state and has stated that for long it has been destitute for more than half of its legitimate share of 3.50 MAF which is in surplus in the Ravi-Beas water, which has lead to a reduction in the agriculture production.

Water use and requirement

  • we must acknowledge that water is a real issue for all the States but we must also acknowledge that the water requirement is overstated by all parties to the dispute. What is stated as “need” is not the minimum requirement for growing crops suited for this agro-climatic zone, but for water-intensive crops unknown to this region. Ecologists have long been warning us about unsustainable water-use practices in this region.
  • It is to be noted that there is no dispute about the use of Sutlej waters.
  • There is a real but fairly delimited dispute about water from the Ravi-Beas.
  • It was agreed upon right from the beginning that the pre-existing usage of water by Punjab and Rajasthan (2.3 and 1.1 MAF [million acre-feet], respectively) would not be touched. The dispute is about the quantum of extra water available for distribution and about the share of the respective States.


  • Leaders and parties from Punjab must step back from the extra-constitutional path of unilateral action and instead negotiate on the share of Ravi-Beas water.
  • Leaders from Haryana must step back from their demands of a share of water; instead, they should focus on swift and assured implementation of whatever is agreed upon.
  • The Centre should step forward and bring both States to the negotiating table.
  • The resolution could take a legal route also.
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