New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday said it does not want to "shut the door" to an amicable settlement of Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal dispute as the Centre expressed its keenness to find a solution, saying it had convened a high-level meeting of Punjab and Haryana on April 20.
"We do not want to shut the door to an amicable solution," a bench comprising Justices P C Ghose and Amitava Roy said while deferring to April 27 the final hearing in the matter relating to execution of its verdicts favouring construction of SYL canal.
The observation came when Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the Centre, said, "A meeting has been called at the highest level on April 20. The Government of India is very keen to find a solution."
While giving the Centre a chance to explore possibilities of an out-of-court settlement to the water dispute between the two neighbouring states, the top court made it clear that it would proceed with the hearing on the next date if the bid fails.
"Some other things have cropped up," the bench said when senior advocate Shayam Divan, appearing for Haryana, reminded it about the previous order.
The apex court also said that the only issue which remained was the execution of its verdicts allowing construction of the canal.
During the brief hearing, senior advocate Ram Jethmalani, appearing for Punjab, said he has been saying that the dispute cannot be settled by the judiciary and the parties should sit together and try to find a solution.
Divan reminded the bench that the matter was listed for final hearing to deal with the execution of the court's judgement on construction of the canal.
The senior advocate also said that he was optimistic about the Centre's move to step in to find a solution.
The Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation has written a communication on April 10 to the Chief Secretaries of both the states intimating them about the proposed meeting on April 20 to discuss the issue.
Earlier, the Centre had made it clear that it was not taking any sides in the dispute between the northern riparian states which also included Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Union territory of Delhi.
In a stern message to Punjab, the apex court had on March 2 said its verdict allowing construction of the SYL canal in Haryana and Punjab has to be implemented.
A five-judge bench, while answering the Presidential Reference on November 11, 2016, had held that the Punjab Termination of Agreement Act, 2004 was unconstitutional as it negated the effect of apex court judgements of 2002 and 2004.
The court had favoured the construction of SYL canal.
Punjab had contended that the apex court order was not binding as it was given under its advisory jurisdiction and the Punjab law still stands.
The Punjab government had said that the verdict, holding Punjab Termination of Agreement Act, 2004 as unconstitutional, did not render the law invalid, as the apex court had only given an opinion on the Presidential Reference.
The apex court had on November 30 last year directed status quo on SYL canal and appointed Union Home Secretary, Chief Secretary of Punjab and Punjab DGP as court receivers of the lands, works, property and portions of the canal.
The court had also thwarted Punjab's attempt to wriggle out of SYL water sharing pact, saying it cannot "unilaterally" terminate it or legislate to "nullify" the verdict of the highest court.
The controversial 1981 water-sharing agreement came into being after Haryana was carved out of Punjab in 1966.
For effective allocation of water, the SYL canal link was conceptualised and both the states were required to construct their portions within their territories.
Haryana constructed the portion of SYL canal in its territory. However, Punjab, after the initial phase, stopped the work, leading to spate of litigations.
In 2004, the Congress government in the state came out with the Punjab Termination of Agreement Act with an intention to terminate the 1981 agreement and all other pacts relating to sharing of waters of rivers Ravi and Beas.
The apex court had first decreed the suit of Haryana in 2002 asking Punjab to honour its commitments with regard to water sharing in the case.
Punjab challenged the verdict by filing an original suit that was rejected in 2004 by the Supreme Court which asked the Centre to take over the remaining infrastructural work of the SYL canal project.