Unforgettable Role of Sikh Freedom Fighters in Stopping Construction of SYL-Canal

Amidst highlighting of contentious issue of Punjab’s river waters, politicians of Punjab are making big claims of their contribution in preventing construction of the Satluj-Yamuna Link Canal.  However; in reality, none of these leaders have done anything aside from making statements to stop the unconstitutional looting of Punjab’s river waters.  While we try to understand the issue, it is important to know the stance of Sikh freedom fighters on the SYL-Canal.  The issue was so important to the Sikhs of Punjab that they were willing to give their lives and take other actions to stop the construction of the canal.

File Photo: Bhai Balwinder Singh Jatana

Politicians of the Punjab, including Parkash Badal, Surjit Barnala, Captain Amarinder Singh have continued to use the issue to earn political mileage while Sikh freedom fighters like Bhai Sukhdev Singh Babbar, Bhai Balwinder Singh Jatana, Bhai Jagtar Singh Panjola, Bhai Balvir Singh Fauji Makraud, Bhai Harmeet Singh and others actually took steps to bar the construction of SYL-Canal.  They did so keeping in mind the interests of the Punjabis and not for any political mileage.

In the last decades of the 20th century, Babbar Khalsa Chief, Shaheed Bhai Sukhdev Singh Babbar had personally taken responsibility of stopping the construction of the SYL-Canal in a meeting of Panthik organizations. After this meeting, state government of Punjab, including the officials responsible for the constructions and design, were told clearly of the consequences by the Sikh jhujaaroos if the canal was constructed.  Sikh Jathebandis relayed clear messages to officials to not construct the canal as it would cause dire consequences to Punjab in the coming decades.

It is important to mention that activists of the Babbar Khalsa in particular were graduate students from Punjab’s prestigious universities.  The circumstances following the 1978 Sikh massacre and invasion of Sri Darbar Sahib in 1984 by the Indian Army led these bright students to give up their lives and careers and join an armed struggle for Sikh rights.

While there are several incidents of Sikh activists standing against the construction of the SYL-Canal, one specific incident had a major impact on the construction.

On July 23, 1990, after peaceful means to stop the construction of the SYL-Canal kept failing, at around 10:30 pm, the Jhujharoos found out about a prominent meeting of SYL-Canal officials.  Four activists of the Babbar Khalsa including Bhai Balwinder Singh Jatana and Bhai Charanjit Singh Channi reached the administrative office.  At this point, as the chief officials resisted deliberating on the matter, they were assassinated as their role in the canal’s construction was clear despite the grave injustice to the Punjab farmers.  Bhai Balwinder Singh Jatana and Bhai Charanjit Singh Channi knew about the consequences to Punjab if the canal construction took place.  Already at that time, without the canal, Haryana was using more water than Punjab itself. The Government had also ignored the agitations by Punjab’s common people, including the Kapoori Morcha which later took form as the Dharam Yudh Morcha.

It is a fact that this action of Babbar Khalsa militants played a key role in the delay of SYL-Canal project. Militants under leadership of Bhai Balwinder Singh Jatana saved the farmers of Punjab from falling victim of water shortage. Bhai Balwinder Singh Jatana was appointed as Chief of Babbar Khalsa in Malwa zone following this action.


  1. There is a deliberate misconception peddled that Punjab has abundant river water which is totally false and according to Helsinki Rules 1966 and the Indian Constitution (Entry 17 of List ii under Seventh Schedule), Punjab, as the riparian state, is entitled to the entire water of its rivers. ‘The rivers of Punjab have a total of 28.5 M. A. F. water. Rajasthan takes away 11.2 M.A.F. of the Punjab river waters (8.6 M.A.F. through the Rajasthan Canal, 1.5 M.A.F. through the Bhakra Canal and 1.1 M.A.F. through the Bikaner Canal). And, Haryana has been allotted 7.83 M.A.F. (4.33 M.A.F. goes from the Satluj through the Bhakra Canal. Besides this, 1.62 M.A.F. out of 3.5 M.A.F. alloted from the Ravi-Beas system also runs through the Bhakra canal. The remaining 1.88 M.A.F. is a bone of contention. (Over and above this, Haryana takes 5.6 M.A.F. from the Yamuna and also uses the entire 1.1 M.A.F. water of the Ghaggar.) Punjab is left with 9.47 M.A.F. Most people do not know that Haryana gets more water than Punjab, although it has less area than Punjab. (Punjab has 50362 sq. kilo metres of area while Haryana has 44212 sq.kilo metres.)’


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