Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann today moved an official resolution in the Punjab assembly on the immediate and full transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab, adhering to the “sentiments” of the people and maintaining harmony. Whenever a state has been divided earlier, the capital remained with the parent state, the resolution stated, challenging the Punjab accord signed between the Rajiv Gandhi government in the 1980s with the Akali Dal represented by Harchand Singh Longowal. The accord had what many believed settled Punjab’s dispute with breakaway Haryana.
The Gandhi-Longowal Punjab Accord pledged to give Chandigarh to Punjab, overruling the Shah Commission’s suggestion that it should be given to Haryana. In lieu of Chandigarh, the Hindi-speaking villages of Punjab will be given to Haryana, the accord provided, which Mann does not seem to know.
A commission was supposed to be constituted to determine what areas would go to Haryana. The commission was to present its findings on 31 December 1985, and these findings would be binding on both the sides. The actual transfer of Chandigarh and other villages was supposed to take place on 26 January 1986. Another commission was to be appointed to study the other boundary disputes between the two states.
“For maintaining harmony and taking the sentiments of people into account, this house once again recommends to the state government to raise the matter with central government to immediately transfer Chandigarh to Punjab,” read the resolution brought in by the Mann government states.
“(The) Chandigarh City was created as the capital of Punjab,” it said, adding, “In all past precedents, whenever, a state has been divided, the capital remains with the parent state. Punjab, therefore, has been laying its claim for complete transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab,” the Punjab assembly resolution said.
Chandigarh became the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana after Haryana was carved out of Punjab in 1966, comprising the Hindi-speaking areas.
The resolution also requested the union government to honour the principles of federalism enshrined in the constitution and not to take any steps which may disturb the balance in the administration of Chandigarh and that of other common assets like BBMB (Bhakra Beas Management Board). The one-day special session has been convened by the Punjab government on this issue.
On 27 March, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had announced that the service conditions of the employees of the Chandigarh administration would be matched to that of the Central Civil Services. While the home ministry said this would bring several benefits to the employees of the union territory of Chandigarh UT, the AAP, INC and SAD leaders are seeing it as a big blow to the rights of Punjab.
The union government had earlier changed rules for the selection criteria of BBMB members. The BBMB, which is a statutory body under the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966, and manages the water resources of Sutlej and Beas, has a whole-time chairman and two members — member (irrigation) and member (power).
According to the convention, the member (power) is always from Punjab and member (irrigation) is from Haryana are selected from a panel of senior engineers. But the changes in the rules for selection criteria allowed anyone to apply for these posts.
The dispute over Chandigarh was not all. The Ministry of Defence under the Gandhi government agreed to keep the Sikh Regiment and the Sikh Light Infantry Regiment reserved entirely for the Sikhs, giving a concession to Punjab more than what the accord had provided for. The Sikhs have approximately 50% reservation in the Punjab Regiment, besides a sizable representation in other units, which is another concession Punjab got that the Mann government seems oblivious to. This was a climb-down from the original accord that had stated that merit would remain the sole criteria for selection in the Indian Army. “All the citizens have the right to enroll in the army,” it stated.
Pre-Punjab accord, a sizeable section of the said regiments had Haryanvi soldiers.
The Mann government’s resolution is silent on a whole lot of other provisions of the Punjab accord, including the fact that, as per the agreement, a commission was indeed formed to settle the dispute, one headed by ES Venkataramiah who was appointed on 3 April 1986 to determine which Hindi-speaking areas of Punjab will be given to Haryana. The commission submitted its report on 7 June, and recommended the transfer of 70,000 acres of land from Punjab to Haryana. However, the actual transfer never took place due to disagreements. Three commissions (Matthew, Venkatarmiah and Desai) failed to provide an agreement. In July 1986, the union government suspended the transfer for an indefinite period.
Then, the part of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution dealing with the union-state relations was to be referred to the Sarkaria Commission. In October 1987, this commission rejected the Anandpur Sahib Resolution approach to the union-state relations.
Finally, Punjab, Haryana and other states were supposed to continue to get their pre-accord shares of water (or more) from the Ravi-Beas system. A tribunal headed by a Supreme Court judge was to verify the river water claims of Punjab and Haryana; its findings were supposed to be binding on both the states. The construction of the Sutlej Yamuna link canal was to continue — to be completed by 15 August 1986. But on 30 January 1987, when the Eradi Tribunal decide the shares as Punjab getting 5.00 million acre-feet (6.2 billion cubic metres) against the 1985 use of 3.106 million acre⋅ft (3.8 billion m3) and Haryana getting 3.83 million acre⋅ft (4.7 billion m3), while 1985 usage was 1.620 million acre⋅ft (2.0 billion m3), the follow-up action on the accord provided that the above allocated shares might be increased or decreased in case of fluctuations in the river water availability. The Mann government’s resolution is silent on this sharing as well.