ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Watershed Moment

The Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal highlights the problems with India's federal structure.

The constitutional crisis which emerged in March–April over the construction of the Sutlej–Yamuna Link (SYL) canal seems to have now gone back to simmering on a back-burner. While the issue has moved away from the front pages of news­papers, it is certain to re-emerge closer to the state elections in February next year. On 14 March the Punjab Legislative Assembly had passed the Punjab Sutlej–Yamuna Link Canal (Rehabilitation and Re-vesting of Proprietary Rights) Bill, 2016 and the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) had organised peasants along the canal’s route in Punjab to “reclaim” the land which had been taken from them to build the canal and which this bill promised to return to them.

The link between the Sutlej and the Yamuna is a part of the proposed water distribution from the Bhakra–Nangal Project. It became an object of dispute after Haryana was carved out of Punjab in November 1966, as the latter state now refused to part with “its waters.” During the Emergency, using the subdued political climate, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi divided the waters equally between Punjab and Haryana, but Punjab did not implement this award. Since then the dispute has been litigated, work on building the canal in Punjab has been tardy, while Haryana finished its part of the work long ago. It has been urging the courts and the union government to push Punjab to finish its work.

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