What is the “SYL” controversy in Sidhu Mosse Wala’s latest song?

SYL holds more blood than water. One of the world’s most bitter water conflicts occurred in Punjab. The SYL Canal is a 214-kilometer-long canal that connects the Satluj River in Punjab to the Yamuna River in Uttar Pradesh. When Haryana seceded from Punjab in 1966, it was proposed that the SYL share Punjab’s water.

Punjab partition

Punjab was partitioned for the second time in 1966 to form Haryana a Hindu majority state and a larger Himachal Pradesh in 1971 known as the third partition of Punjab. Both Chandigarh and the Bhakra Dam were seized and turned over to the Central Government.

An uprising began to defend Punjab’s language and rights. Indira Gandhi formally launched the construction of the SYL Canal at Kapoori Village in Patiala on April 8, 1982. Punjab was opposed to sharing additional water with neighboring state Haryana because Punjab was already diverting 75% of its allotted water. The decision was ruled unconstitutional and in violation of international riparian law by the World Bank during the Indira Gandhi regime.

Protests began in 1982, concurrent with the construction of SYL. The resistance began in Kapoori village, where Indira Gandhi laid the groundwork for SYL. The Shiromani Akali Dal led the movement, which was later renamed the Dharam Yudh Morcha (unofficially led by Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale with a huge base of followers).

It also addressed many other issues concerning the Sikh nation and Punjab. Dharam Yudh Morcha’s obstinacy led to the Ghallughara. Third Holocaust of Sikhs in June 1984 and the Sikh Genocide in various parts of India. As 500,000 deployed Indian troops operated violently in Punjab, causing an estimated 250,000 Sikh deaths between 1984 and 1992.

Rajiv Gandhi and the then-Akali Dal Chief, Harchand Longowal, signed an agreement in July 1985 to establish a new tribunal to assess the water. Despite numerous attempts, the central government has continued to undermine Punjabi rights and push for the construction of the SYL Canal. A large portion of it was constructed at a cost of more than Rs 750 crore. Following numerous protests, the people of Punjab began to resist and halt the construction. Bhai Balwinder Singh Jattana put an end to SYL in 1990 by assassinating two chief engineers.

Punjab Police officer

In retaliation, and at the direction of Punjab Police officer Sumedh Saini, the state burned to death Bhai Balwinder Singh’s entire family, including his five-year-old nephew. Parkash Badal, the Akali Dal Chief Minister, later appointed the same Sumedh Saini as DGP of the Punjab Police. The same Akali Dal and Badal family that supported the Dharam Yudh Morcha and the Anandpur Sahib Resolution in the beginning.

Supreme Court orders

Following Supreme Court orders, the Central Public Works Department was appointed to take over the canal work from the Punjab government in 2004. The state, on the other hand, remained defiant. The Punjab Legislative Assembly passed the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act in 2004, effectively canceling all river water agreements with neighboring states. In the same year, then-President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam referred this Bill to the Supreme Court for a ruling on its legality.

In February 2017, the Supreme Court upheld its earlier decision that the SYL construction must proceed, and it urged Haryana and Punjab to maintain law and order “at any cost.”

The Supreme Court (SC) ordered Punjab in 2002 to continue work on the SYL and complete it within a year. The state refused to comply, instead of petitioning the Supreme Court for a review of the order, which was denied.

The current CM of Punjab, Bhagwant Maan, has remained silent on the issue, while the leader of his Party (AAP), Arvind Kejriwal, has explicitly stated in interviews that Delhi has a right over Punjab’s waters. Over the years, no political party in power has supported the idea that Punjab should have complete control over its natural resources. According to experts, Punjab will become a desert by 2029. The state has already over-exploited its groundwater resources for irrigation.

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