‘Integrity’ fears in Sutlej row

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New Delhi, March 2: BJP-ruled Haryana today told the Supreme Court national integration would be in jeopardy if states kept enacting laws to circumvent the court’s judgments.

The submission came even as the Akali Dal-BJP government in Punjab asserted that it was not bound by the top court’s five-judge bench ruling on the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal, an emotive issue between the two states.

Shyam Divan, the senior counsel for Haryana, wondered whether states should come out with laws on matters “already decided by the highest court in the country”.

“The federal structure is not going to be on a stable course if it is done by states. The implications are terrible. It involves the integrity of India,” Divan told a bench of Justices P.C. Ghose and Amitava Roy.

Several states have come out with laws to circumvent the apex court’s rulings. The court had ruled in favour of Tamil Nadu on the Mullaperiyar dam row but Kerala came out with an act to circumvent the judgment.

Recently, the Tamil Nadu government came out with a projallikattu law to overcome an apex court ban on the bulltaming festival.

The Karnataka Assembly also passed a resolution refusing to honour the court’s directive on release of the Cauvery’s waters to Tamil Nadu.

Today, the Punjab government’s senior counsel, R.S. Suri, told the bench it was not possible to execute the court’s 2002 decree directing the state to construct the SYL canal because there had been a substantial decrease in the availability of water.

The state government also asserted that the court’s November 2016 judgment, which nullified a 2004 law that terminated the state’s 1981 watersharing agreement with Haryana, was not binding on it, as it was just an opinion delivered on a presidential reference.

After hearing the arguments briefly, the court adjourned the matter to March 28.

On November 10, 2016, a fivejudge constitution bench had held the Punjab Termination of Agreement Act, 2004, unconstitutional. The Punjab government had enacted the law to circumvent a January 2004 apex court judgment that ruled that the state should honour a 1981 agreement to construct the canal for supply of water to Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi.

The bench had passed the judgment while answering a July 2004 presidential reference.

Under Article 143 of the Constitution, the President is authorised to seek the opinion of the Supreme Court on a question of law or fact that has public importance.

Nearly three weeks later, on November 30, the court had directed “status quo” on all issues relating to the canal after Haryana challenged Punjab’s decision to return an estimated 5,000 acres to its farmers to allegedly circumvent the judgment of the constitution bench.

On January 18 this year, the court directed the Centre and the Punjab government to ensure completion of the canal at the earliest, so that its earlier decree was not “flouted” and the “dignity of the court” was protected.

“Purpose of decree is to be implemented. Whatever way you want to do, do it. If you fail to implement we will determine it.

“We will not allow the decree of this court to be flouted in any manner. How it will be done is the headache of you all (the parties to the dispute). You (the Centre) have to take the burden on your shoulders and protect the dignity of the court,” the court had told solicitor general Ranjit Kumar.

The directive came on a plea by Haryana challenging Punjab’s refusal to honour the previous judgment.

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