The Supreme Court today again appointed receivers in the ongoing Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal dispute between Punjab and Haryana and sought a report from them by December 15 on the present status of land and other properties on the canal site.
A bench comprising justices P C Ghose and Amitava Roy, however, made clear that Union Home Secretary, Chief Secretary of Punjab and the Director General of Punjab Police, who have been made receivers, will not be taking over of the possession of the land, meant for the SYL canal project.
The three officers were earlier appointed receivers on March 17 on the plea of Haryana and they were given power to take possession of the project land and were also asked to maintain status quo on the site.
Later, a five-judge Constitution bench, on November 10, set aside the Punjab Termination of Agreement Act, 2004 which "unilaterally" terminated the 1981 water-sharing pact with Haryana.
The bench, however, had not asked the receivers to continue with their job.
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for Haryana, today said that recently, Punjab government had decided to denotify the land acquired for the SYL canal project with immediate effect and return them to the owners free of charge.
The bench, for the time being, did not agree with the submission of Divan that the receivers, like earlier, should take over possession of the land in question as the attempts have been made by Punjab to ensure that the verdicts of this court is not enforced.
"The decision to denotify 5,376 acres of acquired land for the project and give them back to 4,980 farmers or their descendants would further complicate the issue," Divan said while urging the bench to pass an order to maintain status quo on the SYL canal site.
The bench issued notice to Punjab on the plea of Haryana seeking enforcement of apex the court verdicts and appointment of the receivers to ensure that the project land in Punjab remains intact.
Haryana rushed to the court after Punjab decided to denotify project land and give them back to farmers.
A battery of senior lawyers led by Ram Jethmalani and Harish Salve represented Punjab and termed the dispute as "very sensitive" which can be resolved through "government-to- government" initiatives. "Kindly issue notice to us. This is a very sensitive issue. No counsel should strictly go by the instructions of their clients.
We all have to find a solution," Jethmalani said, adding a group of experts can be asked to go into the issue and "the court should not decide the matter strictly on legal considerations". Salve, also representing Punjab, said there should not be any order to restore the position as it would amount to quashing of decisions taken by the state government with regard to de-notification of land and their return to farmers. "There is assembly resolution... The land cannot disappear. The land will remain as they are," he said, adding that Punjab is also facing acute water problem and moreover, the ground water is also depleting. Earlier, the apex court had agreed to hear the plea of Haryana alleging that Punjab was violating its earlier interim order that the status quo on land meant for Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal be maintained. The five-judge constitution bench has recently held that Punjab cannot "unilaterally" terminate the agreement or legislate to "nullify" the verdict of the highest court. The controversial 1981 water-sharing agreement came into being after Haryana was carved out of Punjab in 1966. For effective allocation of water, SYL canal link was conceptualised and both the states were required to construct its portions in their territory. Haryana constructed the portion of SYL canal in its territory. However, Punjab after initial work, stopped the work leading to spate of litigations. In 2004, the Congress government of the state came out with the Punjab Termination of Agreement Act with an intention to terminate the 1981 agreement and all other pacts relating to sharing of waters of rivers Ravi and Beas. The apex court had first decreed the suit of Haryana in 2002 asking Punjab to honour its commitments with regard to water sharing in the case. Punjab challenged the verdict by filing an original suit which was rejected in 2004 by the Supreme Court which asked the Centre to take over the remaining infrastructural work of the SYL canal project.