Punjab plunged into a political crisis after the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that a state law scrapping water-sharing agreements with other states is unconstitutional. The verdict has sharply escalated politics in the poll bound state; all Congress lawmakers have resigned in protest.
The ruling by a Constitution Bench, led by Justice Anil R. Dave, effectively means the land will not be returned to farmers and will be retained for the SYL canal, which is at the centre of a water-sharing dispute with Haryana.
A five-judge Constitution Bench pronounced the judgment on a Presidential Reference on the validity of the 2004 law — Punjab Termination of Agreements Act — under which Punjab had sought to ease out of its liability to share the waters of the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej.
“We have replied to all the questions [in the Reference] in the negative,” the Bench pronounced.
The state’s government will hold an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the court’s verdict.
Congress leader Amarinder Singh quit the Lok Sabha and other party lawmakers resigned from the Punjab Assembly minutes after the Supreme Court struck down the state’s unilateral abrogation of the water-sharing agreement with Haryana and other neighbouring states.
In his first reaction after quitting Lok Sabha, Congress’s Punjab face, Amarinder Singh, blamed Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal for entering into the water-sharing agreement in the first place. “Haryana will never get the water,” he said.
The judgment is a huge setback for the SAD-BJP alliance ahead of the upcoming Punjab Assembly elections. SAD MP in Rajya Sabha, Sabha Naresh Gujral, however, said the party would study all the legal options available instead of resorting to drama like the Congress.
The court ruled that construction of the canal should continue “without any hindrance”. In defiance of the court’s orders, the Punjab assembly passed a resolution earlier this year to return the land it had acquired for the construction of the SYL canal. Haryana then went to court.