Wednesday 27 January 2021
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Supreme Court stalls agricultural reforms until further orders

S-G Tushar Mehta told the bench that the Supreme Court has made 'harsh observations' regarding the Centre’s handling of the situation

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Politics India Supreme Court stalls agricultural reforms until further orders

Miffed by the relentless agitation at Delhi borders for the past month and a half over three new farm laws, the Supreme Court of India took up the matters into its own hand to end the impasse over the legislation that led to the protests, and decided to suspend the implementation of farm laws until further orders, decision that is being seen as a case of judicial activism where the judiciary encroaches on the territory of the legislature.

“We are staying the implementation of 3 laws. We are going to suspend the implementation of the laws until further orders,” Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said. The virtual hearing was chaired by a three-judge bench of the CJI, Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.

Responding to a petition on the veracity of the farm laws, the apex court said that the judges were conscious about the ‘challenges’ faced by the farmers and were forming a committee only to find a solution to the matter. 

The members of the committee mentioned by the CJI-led bench are agricultural economist Ashok Gulati, Bhupinder Singh Mann (president, Bharatiya Kisan Union), Pramod Kumar Joshi (director, South Asia international Food Policy), Anil Ghanwat (Shethkari Sangathan).

Supreme Court-appointed committee fails to impress agitating farmers

However, leaders of the unions of rich farmers and brokers, who are demanding state support nevertheless, have said that they won’t accept any committee for the resolution, and all they want is repeal of all three laws. They said they won’t get into discussion with members of the committee as their fight is about complete rollback of the laws, not some changes.

Krantikari Kisan Union chief Darshan Pal says the farmer union leaders had issued a press note last night stating that they would not accept any committee formed by Supreme Court for mediation. He says farmers were confident that the union government would get a committee formed through the Supreme Court to take the burden off their shoulders. Darshan Pal says that they won’t accept committee and the government will have to take back laws.

Joining the chorus opportunistically, the Indian National Congress (INC) said that it did not expect justice to the cause of farmers from the committee set up by the Supreme Court. INC media in-charge Randeep Singh Surjewala says that all four members of the committee have supported the laws, they have written articles and submitted memorandum to Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar.

The court said that the judiciary is focusing on how to prevent the destruction of life and property, hence their wish to form a committee that will later submit a report to the court. Those interested in the resolution of the problem should go before the committee.

The order

The attorney general and solicitor general welcomed the Supreme Court’s plan to set up a committee to examine the three farm laws.

“We want to solve the problem, which is why we are making the committee. We don’t want to hear an argument that someone will not go to the committee… We are told there are 400 farmer organisations. There are as many opinions as there are farmers. We are making the committee to ascertain what the real problem is. Members of the (advocates) bar are expected to show some loyalty to the judicial process. This is not politics. This is the judiciary,” the CJI said.

Agitation to continue

Responding to the development, farmer leader Rakesh Tikait said that the protests would continue despite SC decision and said that the farmer organisations were planning to procure coolers to sit at the venue till summer. “We are not satisfied with the staying of the implementation of the laws… We will discuss and decide on presenting ourselves in front of the committee… The protest will continue and we are even preparing for coolers to sit here till summers,” he claimed.

He said that the tractor rally would happen as planned.

The exchange inside the Supreme Court

Responding to the government’s submission regarding its concerns over a tractor rally on Republic Day, CJI Bobde said that the matter would be heard on 11 January. 

“Yesterday Dave said no tractor rally on 26 January. But today unions say they will go ahead. We have filed an application seeking to restrain the unions from taking out the rally,” the AG said. The CJI asked the AG about the Vancouver-based organisation, Sikhs for Justice, allegedly helping the protests.

The petitioner for the farmers, Advocate ML Sharma, said that the farmers wanted to hold discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as discussions with the union agriculture minister have proved inconclusive so far.

“The farmers are saying many persons came for discussion, but the main person, the prime minister did not come,” Sharma said.

To which, the CJI lashed back and said, “We cannot ask the prime minister to go. He is not a party here.”

However, the Supreme Court hinted that it could in fact quash the laws for the time being while it is discussed between the committee and the farmers.

“We are willing to suspend the laws but not indefinitely… There must be some activity going on to settle the impasse. We have the power to suspend the legislation. But the suspension of legislation must not be for an empty purpose… Every person who is genuinely interested in solving the problem is expected to go before the committee. The committee will not punish you or pass any orders. It will submit a report to us. Sharma, we will protect farmers land. We will pass an interim order saying the no farmers land can be sold for contract farming,” the SC assured.

Counsel Harish Salve said that “there is also apprehension that MSP will be done away with, APMC will be dismantled… all these are misleading”.

“Senior advocates Dushyant Dave, HS Phoolka, Colin Gonsalves, who represents 400 farmers’ bodies, haven’t joined the SC’s proceedings today. They were supposed to consult the farmers on the formation of a committee and come back today… There must be an order that 26 January should go completely unblemished,” Salve told the court.

The apex court on 11 January rapped the central government over the matter and said that it was “extremely disappointed” with the negotiations, and hinted that it would stay the implementation of the contentious legislations.

The Supreme Court lashed out at the Centre for failing to end the deadlock, and proposed the formation of an expert committee headed by a former Chief Justice of India to help find a resolution to the matter.

“We have given you long rope, Attorney General, please don’t lecture us on patience. We don’t know whether you are part of the solution or part of the problem. We don’t think you are being effective,” the court told KK Venugopal.

The apex court questioned the Centre’s strong opposition to the suggestion that the implementation of the laws be kept on hold for now.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the bench that the Supreme Court had made “harsh observations” regarding the Centre’s handling of the situation.

“That was the most innocuous factual thing for us to say,” the bench retorted.

The court expressed apprehensions that the agitation might end up in violence, and loss to lives and property, if it continued this way for long.

“What is going on? States are rebelling against your laws… We are extremely disappointed with the negotiation process. We don’t want to make any stray observations on your negotiations but we are extremely disappointed with the process… We don’t want anybody’s blood on our hands,” the Ssupreme Court said on 11 January.

Furthermore, the apex court said that they had not received any petition in support of the farm laws that were constituted in September.

“This is a very delicate situation. There is not a single petition before us which says that these farm laws are beneficial… We are not experts on economy; you tell us whether government is going to put on hold farm laws or we will do this. We are sorry to say that Centre has not been able to solve the problem and the farmers’ agitation. We don’t see why there is an insistence on implementation of the law,” the SC had said.

Congregations of 40 farmers unions on 11 January welcomed the Supreme Court’s suggestion for a stay on the farm laws, but claimed that they are not keen on participating in any proceedings before a committee that may be appointed by it.

“While all organisations welcome the suggestions of the Supreme Court to stay the implementation of the farm laws, they are collectively and individually not willing to participate in any proceedings before a committee that may be appointed by it. We met our lawyers this evening and after deliberation on the pros and cons of the suggestions, we informed them that we are unanimously not agreeable to go before any committee that may be appointed by the Supreme Court today due to the stubborn attitude of the government,” the Samyukt Kisan Morcha said in a statement.

Farmer leaders late on 11 January said that they would continue their protests even if the Centre, or the Supreme Court, stays the implementation of the new laws.

“We welcome the Supreme Court observation, but ending the protest is not an option. Any stay is only for a fixed period of time… till the issue is taken up by the court again,” Haryana Bharatiya Kisan Union President Gurnam Singh Chaduni said, according to news agency.

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