In a setback to Punjab, the Supreme Court on directed maintenance of status quo on land meant for Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal after Haryana alleged that attempts have been made to alter its use by levelling it.
The apex court in its interim order also appointed Union Home Secretary and Punjab’s Chief Secretary and Director-General of Police (DGP) as the ‘joint receiver’ of land and other property meant for the SYL canal till the next date of hearing on March 31, 2016.
A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Justice A.R. Dave passed the order with a hard-hitting observation that “an effort is made to make execution of the decree of this court unexecutable and this court cannot be a silent spectator”.
It passed the order on an urgent application moved by the Haryana government submitting that the Punjab Assembly on March 14, 2016 passed a bill against the construction of contentious SYL canal providing for transfer of proprietary rights back to the land owners free of cost.
Senior advocate Shyam Divan said the bill awaiting Governor’s assent would negate the apex court’s 2004 decree calling for unhindered construction of the canal which will provide share of its water to Haryana.
He referred to reports with photographs that JCB and earthmoving equipments have been arranged for levelling the land in the Punjab part of the canal and sought ad-interim protection by appointing the ‘court receiver’ and restraining the publication of the assent to the bill in gazette notification.
Haryana’s application was opposed by senior advocates Ram Jethmalani and Rajeev Dhawan, appearing for Punjab, who submitted that the apex court has only advisory jurisdiction and cannot pass interim orders as there was no prima facie case made out and the arguments of the opposite side was based on media reports.
However, Mr. Dhawan’s submission on media reports did not cut much ice with the bench, which shot back, “Do you think that what has been stated in the newspapers is incorrect?”
“You could have done something on Monday (the day the bill was passed in Punjab Assembly),” the bench said adding that if anything happens in between “we will modify our order”.
Like the Punjab government, the Centre, through Solicitor-General Ranjit Kumar, sought an adjournment maintaining that he needed to take instruction as he was not aware of the ground reality and needed to speak to officials.
The Solicitor-General was also of the view that the apex court should refrain from passing any interim order on appointment of receiver.
However, the bench said there was a need for an interim order in view of the prevailing situation.
“After hearing the contentions of the parties, we find that an effort is made to make execution of the decree of this court unexecutable. In these circumstances, this court cannot be a silent spectator.
“The Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs and Chief Secretary of Punjab and Punjab’s DGP will be the joint receiver. Status quo be maintained for the land meant for the SYL canal,” the bench, also comprising Justices P.C. Ghose, Shiva Kirti Singh, A.K. Goel and Amitava Roy said while posting the matter for further hearing on March 31, 2016.