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10 years and counting: Presidential reference on Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal


Chandigarh: A canal that was to link two major rivers in Punjab and Haryana is awaiting a presidential reference for the past over 10 years to decide its fate.

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The Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal, that was planned and major portions of it were even completed in the 1990s at a cost of over Rs.750 crore at that time, is entangled in a political and legal quagmire with Punjab and Haryana unwilling to give up their respective stands on the controversial canal issue and sharing of river waters.

“This is one case in the country which has been lying pending for Presidential reference for the last 10 years. Counsel of Haryana have been asked to strongly plead the case in the court of law,” Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said.

The matter, which has been disputed by both the states before the union government and the Supreme Court over the years, had gone for Presidential reference in 2004.

The reference was sought after the Punjab assembly unilaterally passed the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act 2004, categorically stating that it was nullifying all agreements on water sharing and that no more water would be given to Haryana.

“The Haryana government is making efforts for early hearing of the SYL Canal case, which has been lying pending for Presidential reference,” Khattar said.

Haryana’s worry is two-fold — one, the state is not getting its “legitimate” share of water from Punjab and, secondly, Delhi is demanding more water from Haryana.

“Delhi is demanding more water from Haryana due to increasing pressure of population from Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana side. Haryana is ready to give its share of water to Delhi but other states should also contribute to meet the water requirement of Delhi from Sutlej, Beas and Ganga rivers,” Khattar said.

While Sutlej, Beas and Ravi rivers flow through Punjab after coming from the Himachal Pradesh side, Yamuna is the only major river flowing through Haryana after coming from the Uttarakhand side.

The foundation stone of the canal was laid in April 1982 by then prime minister Indira Gandhi.

At that time, terrorism was on the rise in Punjab and the issue became a sensitive one with leaders in Punjab raking up the water-sharing issue. Terrorists gunned down labourers and officials involved in the canal construction to get the project stalled.

Several kilometers of the canal were constructed in Punjab and Haryana but the project never got completed.

“Over the years, the canal has dilapidated. The concrete lining is in shambles and wild growth is there all over. In rainy season, the canal portions get water-logged and become a nuisance for people, especially farmers,” Balbir Singh, a retired engineer who was once associated with the SYL construction, told IANS.

In 2014, the Haryana assembly passed a unanimous resolution seeking the centre’s intervention to resolve the water sharing and SYL issues.


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Yamuna Continues to Remain Dry Even After Heavy Rain; Threatens Mughal Monuments

The NGT in September 2018 had asked it to work on river cleaning programmes for 12 river basins

yamuna, mughal monuments
In Agra city alone, there are 90 drains opening into Yamuna. Pixabay

Even after a fortnight of monsoon rains, river Yamuna in Agra continues to remain dry, with heaps of polluted garbage providing breeding grounds for mosquitoes and bacteria. This time of the year, the river is usually in spate, recalls old timer Ganno Pandey. But “so far we see no water flowing down. Only the drains are bringing in lots of pollutants and polythenes,” Pandey adds.

The Taj Mahal and other historical monuments along Yamuna’s banks are now feeling the heat. Already green patches on the surface have appeared at the rear side of the Taj Mahal. Experts have said these are excreta of mosquitoes breeding in the polluted waters of the river.

Just before the April 18 polling in Agra, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah had categorically assured that the first task of the elected government would be cleaning of Yamuna and a barrage to hold back water behind the Taj Mahal.

Earlier, Nitin Gadkiri, the Union Minister for transport, has on umpteen occasions promised steamers would ferry tourists from Delhi to Agra. So far, one does not see any ground action. The CPCB has meanwhile decided to set up a unit in Agra to study pollution in Yamuna. The NGT in September 2018 had asked it to work on river cleaning programmes for 12 river basins.

yamuna, mughal monuments
The NGT in September 2018 had asked it to work on river cleaning programmes for 12 river basins. Pixabay

The projects should include sewage management plan, industrial effluent management plan, solid waste and flood plain management plan and ecological flow and ground water management plan.

“Is there any scope for more studies when countless studies done already have proved Yamuna water is unfit for humans and animals. What is flowing down in Yamuna is waste, untreated water, sewer, industrial effluents, highly toxic and full of pollutants, from upstream cities including Delhi,” commented environmentalist Devashish Bhattacharya.

In Agra city alone, there are 90 drains opening into Yamuna. The municipal corporation claims it has tapped some 40. “But a close investigation proves the claim hollow. The bigger ones, Bhairon, Mantola, Balkeshwar ‘naalas’ continue to discharge huge quantities of untreated waste water without any check,” says green activist Shravan Kumar Singh.

The Yamuna river bed between Etmauddaula and the Taj Mahal has become a dumping ground for pollutants. Polythene, plastic waste, leather cuttings from shoe factories, construction material, are all thrown into the river.

Once the festival season starts, PoP idol immersion will further worsen the eco-conditions. People are being advised to avoid using PoP idols, and go for simple conventional ‘mitti ki murti’,” said Lok Swar president Rajiv Gupta.

yamuna, mughal monuments
The Taj Mahal and other historical monuments along Yamuna’s banks are now feeling the heat. Pixabay

The city is lucky to have escaped a major drinking water crisis as the Gangajal pipeline from Bulandhshahar district became operational just in time during peak summer.

“Right now, half the city’s needs are being met by the Sikandra Water Works which gets Gangajal through a 135km long pipeline. Half the water is going waste as the old Water Works at Jeoni Mandi is yet to be connected with the pipeline. We are getting 375 MLD from the Gangajal pipeline,” an official explained.

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While the Gangajal pipeline may have solved the drinking water problem for the time being, the bigger question about dredging, desilting and cleaning of the river Yamuna considered vital for the historical monuments, remains unanswered.

“From 1990, politicians of all parties have been talking of a barrage on Yamuna downstream of the Taj Mahal. Twice, the foundation stones have been laid. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath himself has announced the barrage project in Agra would start soon. But so far there is only talk, more talk and assurances. Why they are dragging their feet on this important project, no explanation is coming forth,” Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society said. (IANS)