The Supreme Court Monday pulled up the Centre for its handling of the farmers protest against the new farm laws saying it is extremely disappointed with the way negotiations between them were going and it will constitute a committee headed by a former Chief Justice of India to resolve the impasse. Indicating amply that it may go to the extent of staying the implementation of the contentious farm laws, the apex court refused to grant extra time to the Centre to explore the possibility of amicable solution saying it has already granted the government a long rope.
“We have given you long rope, Mr Attorney General, please don’t lecture us on patience,” a bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde said. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the bench, also comprising Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, that the top court has made harsh observations regarding handling of the situation by the government. “That was the most innocuous factual thing for us to say,” the bench said.
The Supreme Court will also pronounce orders on Tuesday on various issues related to the new farm laws and the ongoing protest and may take a call on setting up of a committee headed by a former Chief Justice of India (CJI) to find ways to resolve the impasse. The bench, which indicated during the hearing that it may pass orders in parts on the issues concerning farm laws and farmers’ protest, later uploaded the information on the website. List these matters tomorrow i.e. 12.01.2021, for orders, said the bench which also comprised justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.’ The bench on Monday heard a clutch of pleas challenging the new farm laws as well as the ones raising issues of citizens’ right to move freely during the ongoing farmers’ stir.
The apex court asked the parties to suggest two-three names of former CJIs, including former CJI RM Lodha, who can head the apex court-appointed panel. At the outset, the bench said, “What is going on? States are rebelling against your laws”.
“We are extremely disappointed with the negotiation process,” it said, adding, “We don’t want to make any stray observations on your negotiations but we are extremely disappointed with the process. The apex court, which was hearing a clutch of pleas challenging the new farm laws as well as the ones raising issues related to the ongoing agitation at Delhi borders, said it is not talking about the repeal of these farm laws at the moment.”
“This is a very delicate situation”, the bench said, adding, “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, the bench said. We are sorry to say that Centre has not been able to solve the problem and the farmers’ agitation.”
Attorney General K K Venugopal argued that a law cannot be stayed unless the court finds it violates fundamental rights or constitutional schemes. “Our intention is to see whether we can find an amicable solution to all this. That is why we had asked you (Centre) whether you are willing to keep these laws on hold for sometime. But you wanted to buy time,” the bench observed, adding, “We don’t know whether you are part of the solution or part of the problem.”
The apex court, which said the matter is getting worse and people are committing suicides, reiterated the need for having a committee comprising representatives from the government and farmer organisations from over the country and said it will stop the implementation of these laws if the panel advises to do so. It said farmers are protesting against these laws and they can tell their objections to the committee.
The bench warned that it may stay the law if the government does not do it on its own. “Whether you have faith or not, we are the Supreme Court of India, we will do our job,” the bench told the farmer unions which are protesting against these farm laws. The bench said it did not know whether the protesting farmers were observing social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic but was concerned about them getting food and water.
The bench also expressed apprehension that there might be some incident which may breach the peace. It said after the implementation of these laws are stayed, the protestors can carry on with the agitation as the court doesn’t want “anyone to say that we stifled the protest. The top court observed that talks are breaking down because the Centre wants to discuss the new farm laws point by point but the farmers want them repealed. We are not going to protect any law breakers. We want to prevent the loss of property and lives, it said.
When the issue of law and order was raised before the bench, “These issues will be taken care by police. Right to protest is intact and Gandhiji exercised Satyagraha. That agitation was much bigger.” When the attorney general told the court that next meeting between the government and farmers is scheduled for January 15 and the court should not pass any order today, the bench said, “We do not think the Centre is handling the issue correctly. We have to take some action today. We don’t think you are being effective.”
“If laws are put on hold then negotiations will have a chance to work out. Let me take a risk and say Chief Justice of India wants them (protesting farmers) to go back to their homes,” the CJI said. The eighth round of talks between the Centre and the farmer unions on January 7 headed nowhere as the Centre ruled out repealing the contentious laws, while the farmers’ leaders said they are ready to fight till death and their ‘ghar waapsi’ will happen only after ‘law waapsi’.
The apex court had earlier issued notice and sought the Centre’s response on a batch of pleas against the three contentious farm laws — the Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.