An insight into Sutlej – Yamuna link (SYL) canal issue between Punjab and Haryana


 Jeopardising the construction of Sutlej – Yamuna Link (SYL) in Punjab by the order of five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court- status quo on land marked for the construction for the SYL, has exposed the weakness of entire edifice of constitutional governance in our country – elected governments, constitutional authorities, political parties, autonomous bodies and even the judiciary 

From the Indus water treaty

In 1960, the Indus Water Treaty was signed between India and Pakistan. This treaty provided that three eastern rivers are allocated to India for exclusive use before they enter Pakistan; while the three western rivers are allocated for exclusive use by Pakistan. The Indus river system comprises of three western rivers viz. Jhelum, Chenab and Indus; and three eastern rivers viz. Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. After signing of the Indus Water Treaty, the water of these three rivers viz. Ravi, Beas and Sutlej was shared between Punjab, Delhi and Jammu & Kashmir.

About the Crisis

In 1966, Haryana was carved out from Punjab on linguistic basis. As a successor state, Haryana was eligible to receive a share of Punjab’s river waters. But at the same time, Yamuna River, which used to flow in undivided Punjab before 1966, flowed only in Haryana. The water of Yamuna River was never considered a part of the arrangements made at the time of bifurcation of Punjab. In 1976, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi brokered a deal to divide the water, such that each state received 3.5 million acre feet (MAF) of water. Also, Rajasthan was to get 8 MAF and Delhi 0.20 MAF.

In both the states, the sharing of water became an emotive and political issue. Punjab maintained that it had already shared water with Rajasthan via Indira Gandhi Canal, it does not have additional water to share with Haryana.

To enable Haryana to use its share of the waters of the Sutlej and its tributary Beas, a canal linking the Sutlej with the Yamuna, cutting across the state, was planned. In April, 1982, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ceremonially dug the ground at Kapoori village in Patiala district for the construction of the 214km SutlejYamuna Link (or SYL) canal, 122 km of which was to be in Punjab, and 92 km in Haryana. A tripartite agreement was also negotiated between Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan in this regard. However, in 1990, Punjab stopped work when the canal was 90% complete. In 1995, Punjab issued a white paper which said that it would not proceed with the construction of canal and suggested that Haryana be given water from Bhakhra Canal system. When the matter reached to Supreme Court, the court directed Punjab in 2002 to complete construction work by January 2002; and also, rejected the review petition. In 2003, another review petition was filed by Punjab in Supreme Court to relieve it from canal project. In 2004, Supreme Court asked the central government to constitute a high-powered committee to supervise the canal construction process. However, in the same year, the Punjab Government passed Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004 to revert the land of the people acquired for the purpose of construction of Canal.

Presidential reference

Earlier in 2004, the Punjab government enacted Punjab Termination of Agreements act (2004) to scrap all water sharing agreements with neighbouring states. Presidential reference was made in the Supreme Court regarding this act.

What is the stand of Punjab?

Punjab has categorically rejected to execute the project saying that it does not have even a drop of water to share with Haryana. So, it has passed Satluj-Yamuna Link Canal Land (Transfer of Property Rights) Bill, 2016 to return all of the land acquired for Satluj-Yamuna Link Canal project. Without waiting for the bill to get governor’s assent, the local politicians have encouraged farmers to begin filling up the canal with mud. Punjab defends its act, stating that under Article 143, the Supreme Court has only advisory functions, and hence cannot pass an assumptive interim order. Subsequently, the canal was filled up in many areas before the Supreme Court directed to maintain status quo.

What is the stand of Haryana?

In 2004, the Supreme Court directed the central government to undertake the construction of canal under the supervision of a high-powered committee. So, the Haryana government claims Satluj-Yamuna Link Canal Land (Transfer of Property Rights) Bill, 2016 of Punjab is in violation to the Supreme Court’s ruling. Haryana claims to have suffered a loss of Rs 35,020 crore. Haryana finished constructing the canal on its side in 1980. 3.5 MAF of water from Ravi and Beas was allotted to Haryana. Haryana claims it would have grown an additional 8 lakh tone of food grains earning 1000 crore per year had the Punjab government completed the canal. Also, it claims it has spent nearly 20 crores to fight the cases related to the canal project in court.

What is the stand of farmers?

With escalating land prices, the farmers in the three districts (Ropar, Fatehgarh Sahib and Patiala) through which the 214  km long canal passes through in Punjab have begun to claim back their lands by filling it up with mud and by clearing structures such as canal walls, pillars etc. The support of the local politicians have encouraged the farmers to initiate such actions.

Similarly, the farmers of Haryana who had lost their lands for the project have started demanding that their government should also return back their lands.


Punjab’s stand on this issue has become a severe test for inter-state relations and is escalating bad precedent to other states that have similar disputes with their neighbours. By acting on its own way without any regard to the rights of other states, the actions of states like Punjab may have evil consequences to the federal structure and to the unity and integrity of the nation. However, with consensus governance and respecting the phenomenon of “Live and let live” will truly prevent many water wars.

Sankar Ray

North East Institute of Advanced Studies [NE-IAS]




Published by


North East Institute of Advanced Studies (NE-IAS) has been founded with a vision to make high quality professional education and training available at doorstep with the guidance and assistance of nationally acclaimed trainers and mentors who have achieved benchmark in their fields by consistent success records. NE-IAS aims to develop a quality and result-oriented coaching and training institute in NE India. The institute currently offers courses for preparation of UPSC and state level civil services.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s