1, THE PROBLEM. The Punjab has 10.5 million acres of cultivable land. University experts say that for the full exploitation of this land and for raising two crops, Punjab needs over 50 M.A.F. (million acre feet) of water each year. But the Punjab Rivers Ravi, Beas and Sutlej have only 32 M.A.F. of water. In 1947 about 9 M.A.F. of these were used in Punjab, about 1 M.A.F. was used in Ganganagar (for which Punjab charged royalty) and the remaining river water was used in Pakistan or went to the ocean.

After 1947, although Punjab needs every drop of its river waters, the Central Government has, unconstitutionally allotted or diverted about 18 M.A.F. of this scarce supply to Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi, leaving only about 14 MAF. for Punjab. . Similarly, hydel power of Punjab River projects has also been diverted to Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi.

  1. Diversion unconstitutional, This diversion of Punjab waters and hydel power is ultra’ vires of the Indian Constitution because under item 17 of the state list both irrigation and hydel power are exclusively state subjects and under Article 246 (3) of the constitution, only the State Government can deal with them, rivers, like land, being state property. [tem 17 of the state list reads as follows: 17 water, that is to say, water supplies. irrigation and canals, drainage and embankments, water storage and water power subject to the provisions of entry 56 of list 1. Entry 56 reads as follows: 56 regulation and development of Interstate rivers and river valleys to the extent to which such regulation and development under the control of the Union is declared by Parliament and by law to be expedient in the public interest. (Ravi, Beas and Sutlej are not interstate Rivers as any part of them runs in, areas of Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi.) As such, entry 56 does not apply. It was so held even in Narmada Water Dispute Case against Rajasthan, but, today by the Central Act of 1966 the waters and hydel power of Punjab Rivers are controlled, administered and distributed by the Center involving allotment of 75% of waters available after 1947 to the non-Riparian States of Rajasthan. Haryana and Delhi this is blatantly unconstitutional loot.
  2. Ruin of Punjab. The result is that out of the 8.5 million acres of irrigated area in Punjab only million acres are irrigated by canals. The remaining 5 million acres irrigated by tube wells sunk by the investment of the people themselves, even though electric tube well irrigation is 3 times more expensive and diesel tube wells irrigation 10 times more expensive than canal irrigation. And because of the diversion of hydel power to other states, only about half the tube wells out of six hundred thousands are run by electric power. It is despite these increasingly adverse conditions that Punjab is producing about 60% of the entire wheat and rice reserves of India.

The tragedy of the tube well irrigation is that the rains recharge the subsoil with only about 3 to 4 M.A.F. of water, but the six hundred thousand tube wells draw about 10 to 12 M.A.F. to irrigate the5 million acres. This makes for a sinking water table and expensive and unsure means of irrigation. The latest government studies declared that by the end of the decade most of these tube wells will become nonfunctional consequent to a steep fall in the water table. Apart from the colossal loss of investment, this will make most of the 5 million acres unproductive and virtually barren.

Against the above, the diversion of 18 M.A.F of water to the no riparian states will produce for those states an agricultural wealth of about Rs.30 billion per year. The additional production of industrial goods that the corresponding diversion of hydel power will produce is estimated at 3 to 4 times of the additional agricultural production. There is, thus, a double deprivation of Punjab. On the one hand its own lands are being made barren, on the other hand, the major means of agricultural and industrial wealth are being transferred to other states.

  1. Constitutional protest of no avail. Pacific protest and Movements involving the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of people have failed to stop this illegal diversion of Punjab’s wealth and basic resources. The demand was that the issue of diversion should be placed before the Supreme Court So as to adjudicate on the constitutional validity of the diversion. But the Government has consistently declined to do so. After the fall of Indira Gandhi, in 1977 when the Akali Ministry came into power in the state. It filed a case on this issue before the Supreme Court but not power in when she returned to power, the Akali Ministry was dismiss and: the case was withdrawn from the Supreme Court, The constitutional path adopted by the Sikhs to: solve the water and hydel power dispute was thus barred. It has always been evident that the Central government was fully aware that this large scale diversion of water and hydel power of a riparian state to no riparian states is clearly unconstitutional. In early 1984, the Chief Justice of Punjab Haryana High Court admitted a private petition filed in this issue and constituted a Full Bench to hear the case. Immediately, the Chief Justice was transferred to Patna High Court and on oral request by the Attorney General of India to the Supreme Court, the petition was transferred to its file immediately before the Full Bench could start the hearing. The case is still gathering dust in the files of Supreme Court. Instead, in order to obviate judicial and constitutional decision, the issue has been referred to a government appointed tribunal which is incompetent to adjudicate on a constitutional issue.
  2. No solution possible unless this politico economic exploitation of Punjab is stopped completely. Thus all constitutional attempts of the Sikhs to stop this loot of the natural wealth of Punjab have been frustrated. This large scale deprivation of the Punjab will seriously jeopardize the economic growth of the state and its people. In view of this back ground, the only way to solve this problem is to stop this heavy drain of the natural wealth of Punjab and its being treated virtually as a colony of India exploited for the benefit of Haryana and Rajasthan. No honest Sikh or Punjabi can accept this ruin of the Punjab and its people.

May we ask our Californian friends a question? What would be their stand if 75% of its water and hydel power resources were diverted to the neighboring non riparian states? Obviously no solution of the Punjab problem would be possible unless this gross and unconstitutional exploitation of the state is stopped completely. For the question is not of the sharing of waters but of Punjab’s unconstitutional deprivation of its wealth, thereby making the social economic future of its people quite bleak. And this unconstitutional exploitation and the state being administered by the Center in regard to water and hydel power projects have taken place only in the case of Punjab.

This is the real problem which is being deliberately evaded. Confused and camouflaged by the Government under the shouts of law and order and “terrorism”, had the government ever been serious to solve the problem, the issue would have been referred to the Supreme Court twenty years earlier and there would have been no Akali agitation which started on this issue in 1981-82 Instead. It decided to withdraw the case even when it had been filed there officially in the Supreme Court by the Punjab. Government One fact alone will show Indian Government’s honesty or lack of it in solving the Punjab problem. Let it even today, decades after this gross deprivation of Punjab started, place the issue of the transfer of Punjab waters and hydel power to Haryana, Delhi and Rajasthan before the Supreme Court to declare whether or not this transfer is violation of the Indian Constitution and maintain status quo until the decision.

Article extracted from this publication >> March 4, 1988