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All-party meeting in Punjab calls for setting up tribunal to check river water availability

The meeting to tackle Punjab’s growing water crisis was headed by CM Amarinder Singh. It was attended by the SAD, BJP, AAP, BSP and CPM.

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Chandigarh: An all-party meeting here Thursday called for a new tribunal to assess river water availability in Punjab, in an apparent reference to the Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal project.

A resolution said Punjab does not have surplus water and is facing a threat of desertification with declining availability of river water and fast depleting groundwater.

“In such a situation, it is unanimously resolved that the government of India should ensure that river water in Punjab is not in any way transferred from basin to non-basin areas of three rivers, namely Ravi, Sutlej and Beas, as per internationally accepted riparian principle,” it said.

However, the resolution adopted at the meeting chaired by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh did not specifically name the SYL Canal issue.

It said alternatives should be ascertained before a final decision to ensure adequate water for Punjab.

“The alternatives include amendments to the proposed Inter State River Water Disputes Act to set up a new tribunal for a complete de novo assessment of availability of river water, it said.

Punjab has been demanding reassessment of the water volume of the Ravi-Beas river, while Haryana seeking completion of the SYL canal to get its share of 3.5 million acre feet of the river water.

The Supreme Court had in September last year given four months to the Centre, Punjab and Haryana to find an amicable solution to the SYL canal issue.

Expressing concern over the depleting groundwater table, the chief minister observed that the level of rivers in the state has reduced from 17 million acre feet (MAF) to less than 13 MAF.

The groundwater, that meets 73 per cent of irrigation requirement of the state, has declined to alarming levels, threatening the livelihood of farmers.

Talking to the media after the meeting, Singh welcomed “the positive and constructive suggestions by leaders of all parties” and said his government would seek time from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take an all-party delegation to represent Punjab’s case.

He pointed out that internationally accepted riparian principles had been ignored in distribution of water in the country and stressed on the need to correct the same.

He also announced that his government would hold such meetings every six months to discuss important issues related to the state.

“When the water level is going down, you have to have a new tribunal to check water availability. First get it checked how much volume of water is in rivers and it will be ascertained by the tribunal,” Singh said.

His government, the chief minister said, had been pressing the prime minister to form a new commission to assess the current water levels in three rivers of the state.

This is imperative in view of the changed situation, he said.

During the meeting, Leader of Opposition and AAP MLA Harpal Singh Cheema said the state should file another suit in the Supreme Court seeking fresh assessment of the available water in Punjab and insisted on redistribution of water on riparian laws.

Shiromani Akali Dal’s Balwinder Singh Bhundar said political parties should unite to protect Punjab’s water resources rather than indulging in blame games.

Terming the SYL a major issue, Bhundar said apart from legal remedies, it was important to pursue the matter politically.

Representatives of other political parties like the BJP, CPM and BSP also attended the meeting.

However, Lok Insaaf Party MLAs Simarjeet Singh Bains and his brother Balwinder Singh Bains held protest outside the venue of the meeting for not being invited.

The chief minister later clarified that the Bains brothers had not been invited to the meeting as only political parties recognised by the Election Commission had been included in the list of invitees.

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