The Supreme Court on Wednesday mounted a strong defence of the committee appointed by it to help resolve the ongoing farmers’ protest even as it issued a notice to the Centre for its reconstitution after a petition was filed by a farmer union from Rajasthan.
A three-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde expressed dissatisfaction over how “unnecessary aspersions” were cast on the members of the Committee after it was reported that all four had previously spoken in favour of the farm reform laws that have sparked the protests around Delhi.
“If you don’ want to appear before the committee, we cannot compel you. But you cannot malign people like this and cast aspersions on them and also the court. If you don’t want to appear, don’t appear. Why do you need to brand people like this?” CJI Bobde told Prashant Bhushan and Dushyant Dave, who were appearing on the behalf of eight farmers unions.
Protesters and several opposition parties had raised objections saying the four members of the panel were in favour of the legislations. One of the members – Bhartiya Kisan Union president Bhupinder Singh Mann – last week had recused himself from the committee.
The CJI emphasised that all four members of the committee were “brilliant minds in the field” of agriculture and the fact that they had “expressed opinions earlier in different context doesn’t mean they should be disqualified.”
“The Supreme Court appoints a committee and their reputation is torn to shreds!” the CJI remarked, adding that it was possible that the members of the committee could change their positions after they hear contradictory points of views while holding talks with the government and the farmers.
The CJI also reiterated his clarification that the Committee has not been given powers to adjudicate and is appointed only to assist the Court. “Committee was asked to listen to protesters and give us a report. Where is the question of bias in that,” he asked rhetorically.
Despite this, the court decided to issue a notice to the Centre on reconstitution of the committee as a vacancy has been created after the recusal by Mann. The court said the eight farmers unions represented by Bhushan and Dave were not being asked for a response since they have said that they would not appear before the committee that the court set up.
The court-appointed committee comprised Bhupinder Singh Mann, the national president of the Bhartiya Kisan Union and All India Kisan Coordination Committee; Dr Parmod Kumar Joshi, an agricultural economist who is also the Director for South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute; Ashok Gulati, agricultural economist and former chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices; Anil Ghanwat, the chief of Shetkari Sanghatana, who in articles written in the media have expressed views in favour of the farm laws.
After the committee members were accused of bias because of their views, Bhupinder Singh Mann had recused himself from the committee.