INLD leaders, others held over SYL protest at Punjab border
Top INLD leaders were among scores of persons arrested on Thursday on the Haryana-Punjab border at Shambhu, 10 km from Ambala in Haryana, as they drove to the spot as part of their declared plan to dig the SYL canal.
Among those held by the Punjab Police for violating orders prohibiting gathering of five or more persons on Thursday evening were Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) Secretary General Abhay Chautala, state INLD President Ashok Arora, two MPs, 15 legislators and many other leaders.
Those arrested were later taken to Patiala jail, 60 km from here.
Some protesters, carrying hand-held agricultural implements, carried out symbolic digging at the Shambhu barrier itself as a face-saver for the opposition party in Haryana.
The INLD activists originally had planned to visit Kapoori village in Patiala district, 18 km from Shambhu, to dig at an SYL canal site.
The INLD activists were not allowed to move through the Punjab Police’s barriers. A large number of security forces were deployed at Shambhu, the gateway to the state from Haryana in the area.
“We had warned the protesters that if they violate law, they would be detained,” Patiala Range Deputy Inspector General of Police Ashish Chaudhary said.
The administration had imposed Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code and banned any assembly of five or more persons in the border belt of Patiala district.
Heavy security was put in place by authorities in Ambala district of Haryana and Patiala district of Punjab. The inter-state border in both districts was sealed by security forces.
“We wanted to hold our protest peacefully. Since the the Bharatiya Janata Party governments at the Centre and Haryana are not doing anything to bring river water through the Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal, we had to stand up for the rights of Haryana’s people and launch this fight,” Chautala said as he was detained.
Chautala said his party will not allow any Punjab leader opposed to SYL canal construction to move through Haryana.
Hundreds of INLD activists earlier managed to go right up to the Shambhu barrier after breaking the barricades set up by the Haryana Police between Ambala city and the Punjab border.
Riding tractor-trolleys, minitrucks and other vehicles, the INLD supporters headed towards the Shambhu border.
INLD’s Haryana unit President Ashok Arora drove one of the tractor-trolleys carrying Abhay Chautala, who gave the call for digging the Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal, a vital source of water for farmland in Haryana.
The entire stretch of National Highway-1 between Ambala in Haryana and Rajpura in Punjab was sealed by security forces in both the states since morning.
At the barrier, police personnel of both Punjab and Haryana and paramilitary forces remained on high alert to stop the INLD supporters from moving into Punjab.
Security forces donned anti-riot gear and were equipped with riot-control vehicles and other equipment.
Thousands of people, especially motorists, moving between the two states faced inconvenience on Thursday since the busy highway that links Delhi with Amritsar was sealed. Traffic was diverted via other routes, a Punjab Police officer said.
The NH-1 is taken daily by thousands of motorists to commute between Punjab and Delhi through Haryana and vice versa.
“I have already walked for three km to proceed to Ambala. I don’t know if we will get any transport ahead,” said Surjit Kaur, who works in Ambala and travels from her village near Rajpura town in Punjab.
“We had to travel from Karnal to Patiala for some important work. The 2-hour journey took us nearly five hours due to diversions on the NH-1. We had to go via Chandigarh and other places. Why should common people suffer over the politics of certain political parties?” a visibly angry businessman Nakul Sharma said.
The situation along the border was also monitored from the air by a Punjab government helicopter and several drones.
The INLD activists and leaders earlier gathered at the Subzi Mandi Ground in Ambala before moving towards Punjab.
Following a Presidential Reference, the Supreme Court on November 10, 2016, held as “unconstitutional” the passage of the Punjab Termination of Water Agreements Bill, 2004, by the Punjab assembly.
The legislation terminated all water-sharing agreements between Punjab and its neighbouring states, thereby jeopardising the construction of the SYL canal.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked both states to maintain law and order due to INLD march to “dig” the canal. The apex court also asked Punjab to honour its earlier orders on the construction of the river water channel.