SC stays implementation of 3 new farm laws, sets up panel to resolve impasse

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New Delhi, Jan 12 (PTI) The Supreme Court Tuesday stayed the implementation of new farm laws till further orders saying it may encourage the protesting farmers to come to the negotiating table in good faith, and constituted a 4-member committee to listen to their grievances as also make recommendations to resolve the issue.

The stay may “assuage the hurt feelings” of farmers and encourage them to come to the negotiating table with confidence, a bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde said.

It also observed that the apex court cannot be said to be “completely powerless” to grant stay of any executive action under a statutory enactment.

The top court, noting that negotiations between the farmers’ unions and the government have “not yielded any result so far”, said the constitution of a committee of experts in the field of agriculture to negotiate may create a congenial atmosphere and improve the trust and confidence of farmers.

“As a consequence, the Minimum Support Price system in existence 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 bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, said in its 11-page interim order.

“While we may not stifle a peaceful protest, we think that this extraordinary order of stay of implementation of the farm laws will be perceived as an achievement of the purpose of such protest at least for the present and will encourage the farmer bodies to convince their members to get back to their livelihood, both in order to protect their own lives and health and in order to protect the lives and properties of others,” the bench said.

The committee comprises of Bhupinder Singh Mann, National President of Bhartiya Kisan Union, All India Kisan Coordination Committee; Parmod Kumar Joshi, 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 of Shetkari Sanghatana.

The bench said the committee shall be provided a place as well as secretarial assistance at Delhi by the government and all the expenses for sittings at Delhi or anywhere else shall be borne by the Centre.

“The 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 view points. The committee shall, upon hearing the government as well as the representatives of the farmers’ bodies, and other stakeholders, submit a report before this court containing its recommendations. This shall be done within two months from the date of its first sitting. The first sitting shall be held within ten days from today,” it said.

“The implementation of the three farm laws (1) Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; (2) Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020; and (3) Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, shall stand stayed until further orders,” the top court said and posted the matter for hearing after eight weeks.

The court said it is passing the interim order after hearing different perspectives with the hope and expectation that both parties will take this in the right spirit and attempt to arrive at a fair, equitable and just solution to the problems.

“We are also of the view that a stay of implementation of all the three farm laws for the present, may assuage the hurt feelings of the farmers and encourage them to come to the negotiating table with confidence and good faith,” it said.

“Laudably, the farmers have so far carried on the agitation peacefully and without any untoward incident,” the bench said.

The bench also noted that Attorney General K K Venugopal, while agreeing for constitution of a committee, had vehemently opposed the grant of any interim stay on the implementation of these farm laws.

“Though we appreciate the aforesaid submission of the Attorney General, this court cannot be said to be completely powerless to grant stay of any executive action under a statutory enactment,” the bench said.

It passed the interim order on a batch of pleas, including those challenging the validity of these farm laws, those supporting these legislations and those raising the issue of farmers protesting at Delhi borders.

“Though several rounds of negotiations have taken place between the Government of India and the farmers’ bodies, no solution seems to be in sight,' it said while referring to the situation on ground.

It noted that a few farmers’ unions, which are now protesting, have engaged a team of lawyers comprising of senior advocates Dushyant Dave, Colin Gonsalves, H S Phoolka and lawyer Prashant Bhushan to represent their cause.

It said when Venugopal had submitted that there are reports that the unions may take out a tractor rally on January 26 disrupting the Republic Day Parade and celebrations, “the same was stoutly denied” by Dave on the ground that at least one member of family of each of the farmers from Punjab is in Army and they would not disrupt the celebrations.

“However, today this team of lawyers is absent,” the bench noted.

It noted that some unions, who are opposing against these laws, have agreed to go before committee. PTI ABA MNL SJK SA