The Supreme Court on Wednesday said Punjab cannot defy its order on construction of the Sutlej Yamuna Link Canal, and ordered it and Haryana to maintain peace while it was being built. The court said its earlier ruling on the matter must be honoured and that it would not accept any defiance.

The canal is meant to distribute water among six states – Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan and Delhi. Last year, the Supreme Court had struck down a Punjab law that dismissed a pact to share water with five other states. The matter has been brought up several times by politicians in Punjab. The Centre is now supposed to take over construction of the canal.

The bench headed by justices PC Ghose and Amitava Roy said, “We are at a stage where the decree has to be executed.” However, lawyers appearing on behalf of the Punjab government asked that the states be allowed to reach a resolution, and that the Centre act as an arbitrator. Their counsel also said that protestors from Haryana had planned to walk into Punjab and start manually digging at the construction site.

The judges maintained their earlier interim order and fixed the next hearing on March 2, rejecting Punjab’s request that it be listed for after the Assembly election results. Results will be out on March 11.

In November last year, several Congress legislators had resigned from the Punjab Assembly to mark their protest against the court’s ruling. Congress state chief Amarinder Singh had accused Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal of “failing to protect the interest” of the state. Badal, however, had said that the Shiromani Akali Dal would ensure that Punjab’s water was not taken away. He had also emphasised that the water-sharing dispute was a “livelihood and economic issue” and not a political one.

While pronouncing its earlier verdict, the Supreme Court had also ordered a status quo on a resolution passed by the ruling SAD-Bharatiya Janata Party government, through which the Punjab government had denotified the land acquired to construct the canal to return the plots to the farmers.