Unable to convince protesting farmers to give up their demand to repeal farm laws, the BJP in Haryana seems to be playing the ‘divide and rule’ game to create a wedge between Haryana and Punjab farmers over construction of Satluj-Yamuna Link (SYL).
Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, while addressing a ‘Jal Adhikar rally’ at Narnaul City on Sunday, asked the protesting farmers to include the demand for construction of Satluj-Yamuna Link (SYL) in Punjab during talks with the Union government.
“It is very painful that Punjab has not been giving Haryana its share of water. The farmers here are struggling to get water to irrigate their fields. In a democracy, we abide by the constitution and Punjab should provide water to Haryana through SYL at the earliest,” Khattar said.
Earlier, Haryana Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Minister Jai Prakash Dalal also appealed to the farmers to include the issue of SYL canal project in their list of demands. However, the leader of Opposition, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, said the BJP’s move was an attempt to break the unity of farmers.
“The BJP has always put its political interests before the interests of Haryana. Had it really been serious about getting water for Haryana, the state would have got SYL water by now. The Supreme Court ruling in favour of Haryana was taken three and a half years ago. This government never took a step forward in getting water. The aim of the BJP is to derail the farmers’ movement and divide them.”
Farmers stand united
Bhoop Singh, a farmer based out of Fatehabad in Haryana said the Khattar government is taking this issue out of nowhere to create a wedge between farmers of Haryana and Punjab. “It is the BJP’s policy to divide and rule. They are trying to spoil the brotherhood, unity and agitation of farmers by bringing in SYL in this debate. They are now afraid of our unity but we farmers stand united,” said Bhoop Singh.
Gurdev Singh Daudana of the Bhartiya Kisan Union, Haryana, said that SYL is indeed very important for Haryana farmers. “Now all the farmers are united and we among ourselves can deal with this issue. There is no need for the government to intervene. Currently, we are fighting against the farm laws and later we focus on SYL,” he said.
Daudana further said, “The politicians have played with our feelings for long but we have now decided to take this issue in our hands. When BJP came to power in 2014 at the Centre, it was already in power in Punjab with the Akalis. Why didn’t Khattar solve the issue then? They just want to break our agitation and would stoop to any level for their narrow gains.”
Manjit Singh Dhaner, senior vice-president of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Dakanuda) from Punjab told The Federal, “Haryana is our elder brother and we will not let our elder brother’s crop die for want of water. We will give them enough water. The first priority is to make the government revoke the farm laws. Punjab and Haryana farmers are fighting this together. We will remain together. Once it is done, we will divide water among ourselves. We will talk on a panchayat level or among the groups level and will sort it out as well.”
Rohtas Nagura, a political analyst based out of Haryana, said that the agitation has brought Punjab and Haryana farmers together. “The SYL issue, which could not be solved even by the likes of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, is something the farmers are seen solving on their own. Haryana farmers are helping Punjab farmers in providing everything from food to shelter to clothes due to which growers from two states have come closer.”
“SYL is seen as a vote bank issue by all political parties. They never tried to solve the issue, but stretched it instead. The current agitation shows that farmers from both the states understand and respect each other. SYL was not a farmers’ issue, but a government issue. Whether SAD, Congress or BJP…every party used it to get votes. But now there is a mutual understanding and trust-building between the farmers,” Nagura added.
What is the SYL issue?
After independence, an agreement was reached on the distribution of water from rivers between states. In 1955, of the 15.85 million acre-feet (MAF) water of Ravi and Beas rivers in Punjab, the Centre had allocated 8 MAF to Rajasthan, 7.20 MAF to undivided Punjab and 0.65MAF to Jammu and Kashmir.
The dispute regarding sharing of river water emerged after Punjab was reorganised in 1966 to create the state of Haryana. Punjab refused to share any water with Haryana out of 7.20 MAF allocated to it, saying it will affect irrigation in Punjab. However, the Central government in its notification of the Punjab Reorganisation Act allocated 3.5 MAF to Haryana in 1976.
In 1981, the water flowing from Beas and Ravi was revised to 17.17 MAF. Out of 17.17 MAF, 4.22 MAF was allocated to Punjab, 3.5 MAF to Haryana, and 8.6 MAF to Rajasthan and to provide water to southern Haryana districts, a canal was planned to link Sutlej with Yamuna, cutting across the state.
The proposed canal was 214 km long, of which 122 km was to run through Punjab and the rest through Haryana. The construction of SYL started in 1982 and Haryana completed its side of the canal, but the work in Punjab has been stuck for over three decades.
In 1982, when Indira Gandhi launched the construction of SYL in Kapoori village of Punjab, Akalis launched an agitation against the deal. In 1985, the then Akali chief Harchand Singh Longowal was assassinated by militants because he signed an accord with Rajiv Gandhi over the sharing of water.
The construction of the canal was stopped on Punjab side in 1990 after a chief engineer associated with its construction was shot dead by militants. The canal has remained incomplete till date. In 1999, Haryana filed a suit in the Supreme Court seeking construction of the canal.
In 2002, the Supreme Court directed Punjab to complete the SYL canal within a year. Punjab refused to do so and petitioned for a review of the court order which was rejected. The latest development in the issue came when the Supreme Court directed the chief ministers of Punjab and Haryana on July 28 this year to negotiate and settle the SYL canal issue.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said, “You have to look at the issue from the national security perspective. If you decide to go ahead with the Sutlej-Yamuna Link, Punjab will burn and it’ll become a national problem, with Haryana and Rajasthan also suffering from the impact.”