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Pushing the envelope, Supreme Court stays farm laws, names panel for talks

Written by corres2

Ostensibly to “assuage” farmers’ “hurt” and to create a space for dialogue on the contentious farm laws, the Supreme Court Tuesday put on hold, until further orders, the implementation of the three laws and named a committee to suggest — in two months — what changes, if any, were needed after it listens to all sides.

This interim order by a bench headed by Chief Justice of India S A Bobde and comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, echoed what the court had said Monday.

Claiming that negotiations between the farmers and the government had been fruitless, the court said a “committee of experts” to “negotiate between the farmers’ bodies and the Government of India may create a congenial atmosphere and improve the trust and confidence of the farmers”.

It added that a stay of “implementation of all the three farm laws” may “assuage the hurt feelings” of protesting farmers and encourage them to come to the negotiating table with “confidence” and in “good faith”.

It was to help arrive at a “fair, equitable and just solution,” the court said, that it was staying the implementation of the laws, a move Attorney General K K Venugopal Monday had called “drastic”.

The three laws are: Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020; and Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020.

As a consequence of the stay, the court said, the Minimum Support Price System shall be maintained until further orders. “In addition, farmers’ land holdings shall be protected, i.e., no farmer shall be dispossessed or deprived of his title as a result of any action taken under the Farm Laws”.

The court’s committee will include: Bhupinder Singh Mann, National President, Bhartiya Kisan Union and All India Kisan Coordination Committee; Pramod Kumar Joshi, Agricultural Economist and Director for South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute; Ashok Gulati, Agricultural Economist and Former Chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices; and Anil Ghanwat, President, Shetkari Sanghatana.

From Left to Right: Bhupinder Singh Mann, Anil Ghanwat, Ashok Gulati and Pramod Kumar Joshi.

This committee has been set up “for the purpose of listening to the grievances of the farmers relating to the farm laws and the views of the Government and to make recommendations,” the court said.

The court gave it two months to submit its report containing recommendations from the date of its first sitting which the bench said “shall be held within 10 days from today”.

“Every person who is genuinely interested in solving the problem is expected to go before the committee,” the court said. “The committee will not punish you or pass any orders. It will submit a report to us”.

In its bid to broadbase participation, the court said that “representatives of all the farmers’ bodies, whether they are holding a protest or not and whether they support or oppose the laws, shall participate in the deliberations of the committee and put forth their viewpoints.”

The SC asked the Central government to bear all expenses for the committee to hold sittings at Delhi or anywhere.

The bench is hearing petitions against and for the farm laws and also some seeking removal of the protestors in view of Covid-19 and for causing public inconvenience.

On the AG’s “vehement” opposition to the stay, the bench said that although it appreciates that submission, “this Court cannot be said to be completely powerless to grant stay of any executive action under a statutory enactment” and referred to the SC direction in the Maratha reservation matter.

Farmers watch television, during the SC judgment, in their trolley at Singhu Border (Express photo by Abhinav Saha)

Throughout the hearing Monday and Tuesday, the bench was firm on setting up the committee despite being told that protesting farmers had resolved not to cooperate with any such Committee and the counsel who represented them Monday, Dushyant Dave, H S Phoolka and Colin Gonsalves, were not present in the court today.

Advocate M L Sharma, who said he represents some of the unions, told the bench that some farmers had informed him they were not ready to go before the committee.

But the bench said members of the Bar must show some loyalty to the judicial process. “You cannot reject the process if it does not suit you. You will have to cooperate with us and accordingly speak to the client. You cannot tell us negative without telling something positive to your clients”.

The CJI had said on Monday that the court was not getting into the question of repealing the law but was striving for an amicable settlement. On Tuesday the CJI added: “…What needs to be seen is which part needs to be deleted from the law and which should stay…that is why the committee is needed”.

Advocate Sharma also said that the farmers were upset that the Prime Minister was not speaking to them. To this, the CJI said the PM is not a party before it and so the court cannot instruct him.

Intervening, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the court that the Agriculture Minister is talking to the farmers.

When one of the lawyers said there was a confusion if the committee’s role was that of a mediator, the court responded: “Who said it’s mediation?”

The absence of Dave, Gonsalves and Phoolka at Tuesday’s hearing didn’t go unnoticed and the CJI wondered where they were. Senior Advocate Harish Salve submitted it’s a coincidence that they were not present. “I say with a heavy heart that nobody is interested in the judicial process…This is really concerning”, he said.

Sources close to them, however, said that since the case was only listed for orders, they did not appear Tuesday.

Farmers during the protest at Ghazipur

Salve referred to concerns highlighted by the Solicitor General in an application about the possibility of trouble on Republic Day and said the parade should go on unblemished.

The application by the Centre referred to plans by the protestors to carry out a trolley/tractor/vehicle march in the national capital by those protesting against the new farm laws to “disrupt” Republic Day and sought an injunction against it.

Issuing notice on the plea, the bench pointed out that Dave had undertaken Monday there will be no tractor rally on that day in Delhi.

When the bench was informed that an application had been filed before it alleging that a banned organisation is extending support to the agitating farmers, the court asked AG Venugopal about it.

Venugopal claimed “Khalistanis” had infiltrated the ongoing farmers’ protest to which the bench asked him to file an affidavit. The law officer said that he will do so by Wednesday.

Salve urged the court to indicate while passing the order that this is not a victory for anyone.

“It is a victory for fair play”, responded the CJI.

On Monday the CJI had expressed his anguish regarding the elderly, women and children taking part in the protests and asked the counsel representing farmers to convey to the protestors that the CJI had asked them to go back.

Advocate A P Singh representing the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Bhanu) said he will dissuade elders, women and children from being there at the site of protest.

The AG had on Monday told the court that the laws were well-received in South India and so there were no protests there.

Countering this, Senior Advocate P Wilson, appearing for Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Rajya Sabha MP Tiruchi Siva, said this was incorrect and that Vijayawada was witnessing protests and rallies.




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