DW Bureau / Chandigarh
Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh virtually delivered a second impromptu speech during the Northern Zonal Council (NZC) meeting on Friday and took head-on the States of Haryana and Rajasthan on the contentious River waters Disputes. This opportunity came when the Chairman of the meeting, the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh left the meeting hall for a few minutes and Rajasthan Water Resources Minister Dr Ram Pratap who was in the middle of his speech mumbled: “ab kisko sunao!”
Capt Amarinder, the Vice chairman of the meeting, immediately took over the mike and asked the Rajasthan minister to carry on speaking. “You continue,” he told the minister. But when he found that the Rajasthan minister was still hesitant, Capt Singh seized the initiative and started delivering another speech which lasted 6-7 minutes.
With the advantage of having heard the speakers of all other States, he said that Rajasthan was already getting its fair share of water and Punjab had not even touched their existing usage of river water in the Punjab Termination of Water Agreements Act of 2004. So, the question does not arise to give anything more than what is already flowing to Rajasthan. “As regards the Termination Act, this matter is now between the Supreme Court and the President and nothing has been set aside by the SC till now,” Capt Singh added.
Taking a dig at Haryana, the Chief Minister said if Haryana claims to be a riparian state as regards to Ravi-Beas waters, so is Punjab with regard to Yamuna waters. “(But) We did not get water from Yamuna even as we have been the riparian state as part of the undivided Punjab,” he added.
Referring to a useful proposal made by the Union Ministry for Non-Conventional Energy Sources on the Bhakra Main Line Canal with an investment of Punjab, the Chief Minister said he was surprised that the states of Rajasthan and Haryana are objecting to the proposal. “One could have considered making some concessions to other states as a goodwill gesture, but one thinks that you may even use this as a matter for principle to extract a pound of flesh from the Ranjit Sagar Dam and Shahpur Kandi dam on the power front,” Capt Singh remarked.
Representing his State, Jammu and Kashmir’s Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu, who is the former chairman of the J&K Bank, said that fiscal federalism has taken away the operational space for state finance ministers as the GST rates cannot be tweaked. “You cannot change the GST rates; stamp duty will come only after sale/purchase transactions even as the cost of borrowing across the country is the same. So, where do the states raise resources from now?” he asked.
“The paradigm of the NZC meeting should be changed. You are only talking about disputes. We participate in many interstate meetings where there is always a win-win situation. Where is the positivity in this meeting?” the J&K FM asked.
Taking the discussion to another level, Punjab’s Finance Minister Manpreet Badal urged that the states should shift focus from regional to national and international perspectives. “It is not a question of Himachal verus J&K or Punjab versus Haryana, it is a question of India versus South Korea or India versus Turkey.” Making an impassioned plea, he reminded the delegates that when China attacked Indian in 1962, nearly one-third of the money was collected by Punjabis whereas about 30 per cent teachers and other Government officers offered to join the Indian Army to fight for the Nation. Yet, the propaganda and rhetoric on the riverwater dispute coming out is that Punjab is a rogue state.
“This is not right since we have given our waters to other states. We have, in fact, given this national asset to Rajasthan and other states, otherwise, this could have gone to Pakistan,” he argued.
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, however, said that there was no dispute over Punjab and contribution of Punjabis in the freedom struggle “Where is the issue of Punjabis and Haryanvis? We all were Punjabis during the days of United Punjab. We are brothers. But no attempt should be made by one brother to snatch away the right of the other,” Khattar remarked. Interestingly, while most state government delegates were speaking in English, the representatives from the Central ministries spoke in chaste Hindi during the meeting.