Supreme Court Judgement on Sutlej Yamuna Canal

IAS Prelims 2023

A Constitution Bench of Supreme Court of India unanimously held that Punjab Termination of Agreement Act, 2004 which terminated the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal water sharing agreement with Haryana and other neighbouring states is unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court was pronouncing its verdict on the presidential reference of 2004 on the controversy relating to sharing of water from the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal by states including Punjab and Haryana.

ias mains current affairsThe Bench comprising of Justices Anil R Dave, Pinaki Chandra Ghose, Shiva Kirti Singh, Adarsh Kumar Goel and Amitava Roy held that Punjab Act cannot be said to be in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of India and by virtue of the said Act the State of Punjab cannot nullify the judgment and decree and terminate the Agreement dated 31st December, 1981.

It is also observed that once a conclusion is arrived at to the effect that one State, which is a party to the litigation or an Agreement, cannot unilaterally terminate the Agreement or nullify the decree of the highest Court of the country, the State of Punjab cannot discharge itself from its obligation which arises from the judgment and decree dated 15th January, 2002 and the judgment and order dated 4th January, 2004 of the apex Court.

The apex court had been asked to decide on the validity of the Punjab Termination of Agreement Act, 2004 as per which then chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh terminated the contracts for water sharing with the neighboring states- Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir.

The bench headed by justice AR Dave, who is demitting office on November 18 had reserved the verdict on May 12 after the Centre maintained its earlier stand of 2004, that the states concerned should settle their disputes on the matter by themselves.

The Centre had said it was not taking sides and was maintaining a neutral stand in the matter in which the court has recorded the stand of other states — Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir. During the hearing of the case –on March 21 this year — Punjab assembly passed a law (Punjab SYL Canal ( Rehabilitation and Re-Visiting of Proprietary Rights) Bill 2016 to return the land acquired on its side for the construction of SYL canal.

The Haryana government then approached the apex court which directed the status quo to maintained.

Under the 1981 pact, the states were entitled to a share of:

Punjab:          4.22 million acre feet (MAF)

Haryana:        3.50 MAF

Rajasthan:     8.60 MAF

Delhi:            0.20 MAF

J&K:             0.65 MAF

Punjab has earlier said the apex court was not bound to answer the presidential reference made at the instance of the Centre which had no power to resolve the dispute. Appearing for Punjab, senior advocate Ram Jethmalani said the apex court was not bound to answer the Presidential reference on the validity of the Punjab Termination of Agreements, 2004.

Minutes after the Supreme Court announced its verdict, Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh resigned his Lok Sabha seat, even as all party MLAs quit their Assembly seats, in protest against the “injustice meted out to the people of the state”.


Satluj Yamuna link is a canal that is built between river Sutlej and Yamuna to provide water for the farmers of Haryana from the Punjab side. It is about 122 km long and total length is about 495 km which includes the sub-canals.

Then prime minister Indira Gandhi laid the foundation when Darbara Singh was the chief minister of Punjab. In Jan 29, 1955 Punjab, PEPSU, Rajasthan, Kashmir sign agreement for water utilisation of Ravi and Beas.

In September 1960, India and Pakistan agrees on sharing of water of Satlej , Ravi and Beas and thus signs Indus water treaty. In 1966, Haryana was carved out of Punjab and in 1971, Centre’s high level panel recommends to share Punjab’s water with Haryana and proposes providing 3,78 MAF to Haryana and 3.07 to Punjab.

After few years , Center issues notifications to build Sutlej-Yamuna link canal (SYL) to be constructed which was earlier proposed by Haryana. Haryana constructed the canal on their part but Punjab was not ready to construct it.

Despite the pressure from the central government and Haryana , construction did not began as it was against the interests of Punjab. In 1985, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Akali Dal president Sant Harchand Singh Longowal signed “Settlement Accord”. Construction began but it was slow and delayed frequently and later there were regular orders from Water Tribunal to to complete canal construction expeditiously.

This mater heated up in 2004 when then chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh terminated the contracts for water sharing with the neighboring states. On 21st March 2016, the Punjab Assembly passed the Punjab SYL Canal (Rehabilitation and Re-vesting of Proprietary Rights) Bill 2016, seeking to return land acquired for the canal’s construction to the original owners free of cost.