All about SYL Dispute

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The governments of Punjab and Haryana have agreed to work towards an amicable settlement of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link dispute.

What is the SYL dispute?


Punjab and Haryana are locked in a dispute over the sharing of the Ravi-Beas waters for decades. After the erstwhile Punjab was reorganised into Punjab and Haryana on November 1, 1966, differences arose between the two states over their share of the surplus Ravi and Beas waters.

While Haryana claimed 4.8 million acre feet (MAF) of water of the total 7.2 MAF (share of the erstwhile Punjab) on the principle of equitable distribution, the Punjab government did not agree. Haryana approached the Centre, which issued a notification on March 24, 1976, spelling out the rights and liabilities of the states. Haryana was allocated 3.5 MAF of waters.

The 212km-long SYL canal was to carry Haryana’s share of water to its “dry and arid” southern part. While 121km of the canal was to run through Punjab, the remaining 91km through Haryana, which completed the work in June 1980. Around Rs 250 crore were spent on the canal system. Haryana also gave Rs 1 crore to Punjab in November 1976, the first instalment of the Rs 192 crore it would give the neighbour over the years for building the canal.

However, Punjab did not start the work. Both the state filed separate petitions in the Supreme Court in 1979.

Punjab began the work on the canal after a tripartite agreement. Though the petitions were pending in the court, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi met the chief ministers of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan on December 31, 1981. The three CMs signed an agreement that saw an increase in the available Ravi-Beas waters from 15.85 MAF to 17.17 MAF.

The agreement allowed Punjab the use of Rajasthan’s share till it could spare the water, allowing the state an additional 1.32 MAF. Punjab agreed to complete the canal work within two years and the two states withdrew the petitions from the Supreme Court. On April 8, 1982, Indira Gandhi led the ground-breaking ceremony near Kapuri village in Patiala district.

Within weeks of the ground-breaking ceremony, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) launched an agitation against the canal under the leadership of Sant Harchand Singh Longowal. They followed it up with protests. In August 1982, the agitation was converted into a “Dharam Yudh (holy war)”. The agitation took a violent turn, plunging the state into chaos. On July 24, 1985, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Longowal signed the Punjab accord in New Delhi. The agreement called for completion of the canal by August 1986 and an SC judge-led tribunal to decide Punjab and Haryana’s share of the remaining water.

The SS Barnala-led SAD government started the work and 90% of it was completed, costing around Rs 700 crore. But the construction was stopped when Sikh militants gunned down two senior engineers and 35 labourers working on the canal. On November 23, 1990, the Haryana CM asked the Centre to hand over the work to one of its agencies. A decision was taken to rope in the Border Roads Organisation, but not a brick has been laid since. In September 1996, Haryana filed a plea in the Supreme Court, seeking directions for Punjab to complete the canal.

The court, in January 2002 and June 2004, ordered the remaining portion of the canal to be completed. The Centre was on June 4, 2004 told to ask one of it agencies to take control of the canal work.

But a month later, the Punjab assembly enacted the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004 annulling all inter-state agreements on sharing Ravi and Beas waters.

In March 2016, Punjab came out with another law, de-notifying the land acquired for the canal and for it to be returned it to its owners. Haryana challenged the law in the Supreme Court, which ordered status quo.

Punjab also returned to Haryana Rs 192 crore it had received for the SYL canal only for the cheque to be sent back.


The hearing on presidential reference was carried out by the Supreme Court. The court struck down the law passed by the Punjab Assembly.

Haryana’s arguments

  • Haryana is a water-stressed State.
  • As against a demand of 36.0 million-acre-foot (MAF) of water, the availability is only 14.7 MAF.
  • Punjab is not delivering Haryana’s full share of the Ravi-Beas waters.
  • Haryana has to give, out of its own share in the Yamuna waters, extra water to Delhi in compliance with the apex court’s orders.
  • Agreements arrived at in the past between the States must be honoured.

Punjab’s stand

  • The Punjab government has always maintained it has no water to spare for Haryana.
  • Therefore, Punjab decided to pull out of the canal agreement.
  • Punjab passed an Act in 2004 terminating the canal agreement. The Act was held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2016. In February 2017, the SC said that Punjab would have to comply with its order on the construction of canal.
  • Punjab says that an estimated 10 lakh acres in southern Punjab were likely to go dry following the construction of the canal.
  • The region, which earlier saw the emergence of Maoism, could again become a hotbed of terrorism, if the project was executed.
  • Punjab also says that though Haryana had less land, it was given more water at the time of Punjab’s reorganisation [in 1966].
  • At that time, Punjab did not get any share in the Yamuna water.