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Cornered on freebies, Himachal CM Sukhu diverts focus to Punjab front with claim for share in Chandigarh

Himachal CM Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu

Shimla: Fighting a grim fiscal battle on the home front that makes implementing the Congress’s 10-poll guarantees on freebies in Himachal Pradesh a tough task, Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu has chosen to focus his attention on a contentious issue involving the state’s rights in the Union Territory of Chandigarh.

Himachal Pradesh, formed out of the trifurcation of Punjab is entitled to a 7.19 percent share in the joint assets of the erstwhile Punjab under the states’ Reorganisation Act 1966.

Camping in Chandigarh for the past few days, for his health check-ups, Sukhu says Himachal Pradesh has never been treated fairly on getting its legitimate rights— whether it be its share in the power (generated from rivers flowing through the state), water or other assets.

Most of the hydropower projects including Bhakra-Nangal dam, Pong Dam or Satluj Beas Link (SYL) are manned by Bhakra-Beas Management Board (BBMB), which has its headquarters at Chandigarh.

Till, Himachal Pradesh filed a case in the Supreme Court, which delivered a landmark judgement in 2011, the state had remained in a constant struggle to get its share of 7.19 percent in the power generated from the projects, which was given as an ad hoc share of a few MWs to meet the state’s needs.

Even to use water from the rivers, which BBMB harnessed for power generation, Himachal Pradesh was required to take a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) from the BBMB ,a condition which the centre has finally waived off in May –June 2023.

Intensifying the efforts to build-up pressures for 7.19 percent share in Chandigarh, Sukhu has set up a three-member committee of cabinet ministers headed by agriculture minister Chander Kumar to work out modalities for the action to be followed by the state government.

“The Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966, clearly mentions Himachal Pradesh’s entitlement to its share of 7.19 per cent in Chandigarh. The state has been deprived of this right since the very beginning which is a grave injustice to the people of Himachal,” said the Chief Minister in a statement.

The government will decide its further course of action after taking into consideration the findings and recommendations of the cabinet sub-committee, he says.

Sukhu says the state government is also exploring options to recover its arrears in power share, which so far has not been cleared as per orders of the Supreme Court.

In 2011, the Apex Court had decided in favour of Himachal Pradesh to grant a power share of 7.19 percent in all the BBMB projects.

Currently, Himachal is receiving its share, but an arrear of 13,066 million units of power has still not been released in favour of the state. Besides, the state has also demanded an increase in its power share in all the BBMB projects set up in Himachal Pradesh, as natural resources of the State are being used to generate electricity through these power projects.

For Sukhu it’s a good issue to divert attention from poll guarantees, which are unlikely to be implemented due to the fiscal crisis in the state.

Sukhu has received support from veteran BJP leader Shanta Kumar, who praised him for his efforts to get the share in Chandigarh city.

In a social media post, Shanta Kumar shared his own experience as the Chief Minister in 1977, when he discussed this issue with Prime Minister Morarji Desai. The former Prime Minister showed sympathy and agreed to convene a meeting with the Chief Ministers of the concerned states.

A committee was proposed during the meeting and then Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal requested that Himachal Pradesh be granted its temporary share of power in the meantime.

“Although some leaders like Devi Lal protested, Badal agreed to the request and a historic decision to allocate 15 MW of ad hoc power to Himachal Pradesh from the Beas Sutlej project was granted

During his second term as Chief Minister in 1990, he continued to fight for the rights of Himachal Pradesh. The state organized the “Himachal Adhikar Yatra” to Delhi, which involved thousands of public representatives, Panch Pachayant Samiti, Zilla Parishad members, MLAs, and MPs. Shanta Kumar recalled a protest in Delhi where he was joined by leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Krishna Lal Sharma, and they submitted a memorandum to the President.

Himachal Pradesh received 15 MW of power until 2011. The matter eventually reached the Supreme Court, which not only accepted the state’s demand but also ordered the payment of arrears.

The formalities for this payment are currently being completed, and Shanta Kumar hopes that the state will soon receive approximately Rs 6,000 crore from the central government. He urged Chief Minister Sukhu to expedite the formalities and secure this amount.

It is yet to be seen how Chief MInister takes it further as Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann has openly declared to protect the interests of his state at any cost and not to submit to any pressures from the Centre or Himachal Pradesh.

Previous Chief Ministers viz Virbhadra Singh and Prem Kumar Dhumal had also been vehemently struggling for the rights but nothing worked in the past 50 years for the state.