The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered status quo on land acquired for the construction of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal's stretch in Punjab and appointed the Union Home Secretary, Punjab's Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police as receivers.
Issuing notice to Punjab and the Centre on Haryana's application, a bench of Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Justice Amitava Roy ordered that the "status quo, as of today, shall be maintained by the parties, subject to further orders of this court".
Appointing the receivers for the "lands, works, property and portions of the SYL canal" stretch falling in Punjab, the court asked them to file a report on the ground situation of the property within a period of one week from Wednesday.
However, the court clarified that "for the present, nobody in possession of the land etc. in question as of today would be dispossessed before the next date of hearing".
The court order came on a plea by the Haryana government that sought status quo ante in the wake of the Punjab government's decision to denotify the acquired land and restore it to its original owners.
Appearing for Haryana, senior counsel Shyam Divan told the court that Punjab could not nullify the 2002 and 2004 orders and decrees of the apex court that directed for the completion of the Punjab stretch of the SYL canal.
Seeking the restoration of the March 17 order wherein a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court had appointed the Union Home Secretary, Punjab's Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police as receivers, Divan said the three should continue as receivers till they were discharged of their responsibility.
Justice Roy, one of the judges on the Constitution Bench, reminded Divan that on November 10, when the Constitution Bench had pronounced its opinion, he had asked for such relief but the same was not granted.
Senior counsel Ram Jethmalani, appearing for Punjab, said the matter before the court was a serious one that requires to be considered.
Telling the court that a legalistic view alone will not help in the dispute's resolution, Jethmalani urged the court to "appoint a group of people who would look into the needs of Haryana and compulsion of Punjab and suggest a way out".
At this, the bench observed that what he was saying was that the matter could not be considered on strictly legal basis but a pragmatic view had to be taken of the same.
The Supreme Court had, in its advisory opinion on a Presidential reference on November 10, held as unconstitutional the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004, passed by the state assembly.
Following this, the Punjab government had de-notified 5,376 acres of land acquired from 4,980 owners for the canal.
On November 16, The Punjab assembly passed a resolution directing the state government, its Council of Ministers and government officers and officials not to hand over land to any agency for the canal's construction.
The assembly resolved that the Punjab government should levy a cost on Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi for the water supplied to non-riparian states over the past many years.
Harish Salve, who also appeared for Punjab, sought the next court hearing in April 2017 as the state assembly elections were slated to be held in early 2017 and the model code of conduct will come into force in a fortnight or so.
The enforcement of the model code will prevent the Punjab government from taking any decision having financial or policy implications.
However, the apex court wanted a report on the ground situation and directed for the next hearing on December 15.