The Supreme Court on Tuesday, 12 January, stayed the implementation of the Centre’s three farm laws till further notice, and constituted its expert committee which will take inputs from all the relevant stakeholders regarding the protests and the farmers’ concerns.
“We are going to suspend implementation of the three farm laws until further orders,” Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said, reading from the order passed by the three-judge bench.
The committee is comprised of the following members:
Bhupinder Singh Mann, President of the Bharatiya Kisan Union and Chairman of the Kisan Coordination Committee
Policy expert Dr Pramod Joshi
Agricultural economist Ashok Gulati
Anil Ghanvat of the Shetkari Sangathan
During an explosive hearing on Monday, the CJI had said that the court was “extremely disappointed” with the Centre over its approach to the farmers’ protests. He had also reiterated the SC’s intent to form an expert committee to examine the concerns raised by farmers against the Centre’s controversial farm laws.
On Tuesday, the CJI confirmed that they had the power to set up a committee which would submit a report to the apex court regarding the farm laws. All those concerned with the issue would be able to go before the committee to present their concerns.
The farmers have indicated they will stick by their demand for the three controversial farm laws to be repealed, and that they do not see the Supreme Court’s proposed committee as a solution to the deadlock.
First Meeting of Expert Committee in 10 Days, MSP System to be Protected
In further details stated in the full order of the court, the judges have also held that:
"“the Minimum Support Price System inexistence before the enactment of the Farm Laws shall be maintained until further orders. In addition, the 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 order clarifies the details of the functioning of the committee. According to the judges, it has been constituted “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 has clarified that representatives of all farmers’ bodies, whether they support or oppose the farm laws or are at the protests, will be able to participate in the committee’s proceedings.
The first meeting of the expert committee has to be held within ten days from 12 January, and it is to submit its report to the Centre within two months of that meeting.
The Proceedings in the Court on Tuesday
The apex court is hearing a batch of petitions related to the farmers’ protests at the borders of Delhi, including some seeking immediate removal of the protesting farmers (citing the court’s own Shaheen Bagh judgment and COVID concerns) as well as other petitions, which have been filed, challenging the legality of the farm laws.
One of the petitions has been filed by Member of Parliament Tiruchi Siva, whose lawyer on Tuesday contested a claim made by the Centre during the previous hearing that farmers in south India had no objection to the new farm laws. He noted that there were protests going on in Vijaywada against the farm laws at this time itself.
Further to one of the controversial moments from Monday’s hearing, when the CJI had requested the lawyers for the protesting farmers to ask that women and children and the elderly not be “kept” at the protests, a lawyer for one farmers’ association (BKU Bhanu) has said that they will not be present at protests organised by their association going forward.
In a statement that is likely to intensify the controversy over this issue, the CJI said that “We want to place on record our appreciation for this stand.”
Senior advocate Harish Salve (representing one of the petitioners asking for removal of the protesters) raised concerns over the absence of the lawyers who were representing a number of farmer unions – Dushyant Dave, Prashant Bhushan, Colin Gonsalves and HS Phoolka – at the hearing, and said he was worried they were using the court’s observations on Monday as a victory for them.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave informed The Quint that they had not appeared as the court had not listed the matter for a hearing on its cause list, but ‘For Orders’.
Salve and senior advocate PS Narasimha, representing another of the petitioners asking for removal of the protesters argued that the protests now saw people from ‘Sikhs for Justice’, a foreign organisation with Khalistani links, seeking to sponsor the protests. The CJI has asked the Solicitor General and Attorney General to file an affidavit about this issue and send it to all the parties, including the farmers’ unions whose lawyers are not present in court at this time.
The Attorney General also said that the Centre had intelligence bureau inputs that the protests had been “infiltrated by Khalistanis” and would include these inputs in the affidavit. This was tied into the injunction application filed by the Delhi Police to stop the farmers’ proposed tractor rally on Republic Day.
The CJI agreed to issue notice on this application and said these issues would be taken up on Monday, 18 January.
What Happened at Monday’s Hearing?
On Monday, the CJI had castigated the central government for constantly saying it was engaged with discussions with the farmers, and yet was not engaging with the farmers.
“If there is some sense of responsibility, you can show this now by saying that there will be no implementation of the laws,” CJI Bobde suggested, adding, “We don’t see why there should be insistence on implementation of the laws at all costs.”
The Chief Justice said that if the Centre was not willing to stay the implementation of the laws, the apex court would do so, which would allow better negotiations with the farmers and ensure the expert committee set up by the court could properly address concerns with regard to the laws.
Farmers Continue Protests
Since November 26, thousands of farmers have been protesting against the three farm laws – Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 – at the borders of the national capital.
While the farmers have insisted on the repeal of the three laws passed in September, the Centre has not been willing to offer anything beyond amendments to the laws.
The government has posited the contentious laws as much-needed reforms in the agricultural sector that will give farmers more freedom to sell their produce. However, protesting farmers have argued that this will lead to the dismantling of the MSP system and prioritise corporate interests.
The Centre is scheduled to hold the ninth round of talks with farmer union leaders on 15 January.
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