SC dispenses justice to Himachal. That Cong Govts denied so far
By Amba Charan Vashishth
Failure is a bastard nobody wishes to own and success the bright son whom everybody claims to be his own. That is true of the last month’s Supreme Court verdict that granted 7.19 per cent share to Himachal Pradesh in projects managed by Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) and those which came up later in terms of the provisions of the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966. After 45 years Himachal got justice despite Manmohan government opposing the State’s claim in the court.
What a coincidence that when in 1993 Himachal Pradesh unit of BJP launched an agitation for the grant of 12 per cent free power to the State in hydro-electric projects it was done by the former chief minister Shanta Kumar when Prof. Prem Kumar Dhumal was the State BJP President and when the apex court’s decision came in favour Shri Dhumal became the Chief Minister.
The 1966 Act being a Central Act, the responsibility for implementing its provisions was primarily that of the Union Government. So it was the duty of the State government at that time to secure and safeguard its rights. Unfortunately, both failed. The dispute goes back to the days when the then composite State of Punjab was trifurcated on November 1, 1966 resulting in merger of Himachal into hilly districts of Shimla, Kangra, Kullu, Lahaul and Spiti, Una and Nalagarh tehsils of Hoshiarpur and Ambala districts, respectively, and some other pockets, almost doubling its area and population of the then Himachal.
Himachal’s share in the assets and liabilities was determined at 7.19 per cent of the then Punjab. Himachal was made to pay its share of liabilities, but denied its share in assets. The then Congress government never cared to fight for more areas in terms of the Shah Commission set up to determine the areas of the resultant states.
The Congress also lost the opportunity to deliver justice to Himachal once for all when it had its own governments in Himachal, in Punjab and at the Centre. On April 17, 1967 only 2.5 per cent of share in power projects was granted on adhoc basis.
Because of perseverance of the then Janata Party Chief Minister Shanta Kumar, the then Morarjee Government in 1978 gave an adhoc share of 15 out of 990MW in Beas-Sutluj link to Himachal. In February 1980 Shanta Kumar government fell. When BJP bounced back to power in 1990, Shri Shanta Kumar again raked up the issue with the Centre. BJP government moved a resolution in Himachal Vidhan Sabha on March 3, 1991 demanding 12 per cent share in the power projects. Vidhan Sabha passed it. But the Congress opposition then did not support the Government. In the meantime Congress government led by Shri PV Narasimha Rao took over at the Centre. BJP threatened to agitate. Congress retaliated by threatening not to sit idle.
After dismissal of Shanta Kumar’s BJP government in December 1992, Prof Prem Kumar Dhumal was elected the State BJP President in early 1993. Later, on May 8 both of them together led an Adhikar Yatra to Delhi to press for Himachal’s right to 12 per cent free share in the power projects situated in Himachal. Both made it an election issue during the November 1993 mid-term poll to Vidhan Sabha. It failed to click. BJP lost. Its strength was reduced to a mere 7 in 68-Member House and Congress under Shri Virbhadra Singh formed a government.
But Shri Virbhadra Singh failed to fetch justice to Himachal as there was no love lost between the Congress government at the Centre and in the State. In 1996 Lok Sabha elections BJP again raised a pitch for justice with little success. Congress lost power at the Centre. United Front government led by Shri HD Deve Gowda as Prime Minister took office on June 1, 1996. Shri Virbhadra Singh visualised the volatility of the issue which could again put him in the dock during Assembly polls less than one-and-a-half years away. Later the same month he filed a case in the Supreme Court seeking justice for the State in a bid to thwart BJP attempt to raise the issue during elections.
During the last fifteen years when the matter was under consideration of the Supreme Court, Shri Virbhadra Singh was chief minister for over six years while Prof. Prem Kumar Dhumal pursued this matter for about nine years – five years 1998-2003 and four years of the current term.
On a rough estimate the amount of arrears along with interest as decreed by the court could amount to 200 crore annually to the State with an outstanding debt of over 27,000 crore. It will go a long way in easing the perennial financial crisis plaguing the State.
Hailing the judgement Chief Minister Prof. Dhumal said, “It is due to the efforts made by the BJP regime, which has resulted in the landmark judgment coming in favour of Himachal.” Former CM Shanta Kumar claimed that he had been raising this issue since 1977. Shri Virbhadra Singh claimed credit “for the bold initiative to move the apex court”.