Farmers’ stir: Supreme Court stays farm laws, forms panel for talks

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January 13, 2021 5:15 AM

Orders continuation of MSP system, says farmers' lands are secured

The Bench also issued notice on an application by the Centre, through the Delhi Police, for an injunction order against farmers holding any tractor/trolley/vehicle march that may disrupt the Republic Day celebrations.The Bench also issued notice on an application by the Centre, through the Delhi Police, for an injunction order against farmers holding any tractor/trolley/vehicle march that may disrupt the Republic Day celebrations.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended the implementation of three controversial farm laws that have caused a massive and prolonged protest by farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, at the Delhi’s borders, via an ‘extraordinary order’, and set up a four-member committee to break the deadlock between the government and farmers, and facilitate resolution of the relevant issues.

“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….The (three laws) shall be stayed until further notice,” a Bench led by Chief Justice SA Bobde said, while hoping that the decision will be taken in the ‘right spirit’ and seen as “an attempt to arrive at a fair, equitable and just solution to the problems”.

The court also ordered that the minimum support price system, which is in existence before the enactment of the farm laws, shall be maintained until further orders (the government has repeatedly stated that the MSP system won’t be undermined). In addition, the court said the farmers’ land holdings shall be protected. “No farmer shall be dispossessed or deprived of his title as a result of any action taken under the Farm Laws,” the court said in the order.

“Be that as it may, the negotiations between the farmers’ bodies and the government have not yielded any result so far. Therefore, we are of the view that the constitution of a committee of experts in the field of agriculture 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,” the apex court stated.

The four-member committee, comprising Bhupinder Singh Mann, national president, Bhartiya Kisan Union and All India Kisan Coordination Committee; Dr Parmod Kumar Joshi, agricultural economist, director for South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute; Ashok Gulati, agricultural economist and former chairman, Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices; and Anil Ghanwat, president, Shetkari Sanghatana, will “hear the grievances of the farmers on the farm laws and also the views of the government to make recommendations”.

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 order stated. The committee has also been directed to submit its report along with its recommendations within two months from the date of its first sitting, which will be held within ten days.

The bench noted solicitor general Tushar Mehta’s submissions that there were inherent safeguards, in-built in the Farm Laws, for the protection of the land of the farmers and that it will be ensured that no farmer will lose his land. Mehta during the hearing had told the SC that farmers have fallen prey to the “basic misapprehension” that the laws would lead to loss of agricultural land. “The law is only for voluntary contract farming of crops. Agricultural land will remain immune,” he had reiterated.

However, the top court rejected attorney general KK Venugopal’s submissions that no one objecting to the farm laws have pointed out any single provision which is detrimental to the farmers and that the laws enacted by Parliament cannot be stayed by this court, especially when there is a presumption in favour of the constitutionality of legislation. “… this court cannot be said to be completely powerless to grant stay of any executive action under a statutory enactment,” the CJI-led Bench stated in its order.

A team of lawyers representing the agitating farmers, who on Monday contested the AG’s view that there is a threat of disruption of Republic Day celebrations due to the ongoing protest, were absent in the court on Tuesday.

Both Bhartiya Kisan Sangh senior V Chitambaresh and Consortium of Indian Farmers Association counsel Sridhar Potaraju submitted that they were not aggrieved by the farm laws. Potaraju submitted that his client represented 15 farmers’ unions across 15 states and that they will be badly affected if a stay of the implementation of the Farm Laws was ordered. “This is for the reason that the farmers whom he represents, cultivate fruits and vegetables and that about 21 million tonnes of fruits and vegetables will rot, if anything is done at this stage,” he added.

“If there is a victory at all, it is the victory of fair play,” the CJI told senior counsel Harish Salve during the hearing. The senior lawyer had apprehended that the stay on the implementation of the laws should not be misconstrued by some as a “political victory” of sorts. The apex court also asked the Centre to file an affidavit on presence of banned entities in the protests. This happened after Salve pointed out that an outlawed Canadian political outfit Sikhs For Justice is offering money to people for participating in protests.

The Bench also issued notice on an application by the Centre, through the Delhi Police, for an injunction order against farmers holding any tractor/trolley/vehicle march that may disrupt the Republic Day celebrations.

The apex court is hearing a batch of petitions related to the protests by farmers. Some have sought directions to the government to remove protesters to clear the roads as the commuters were facing hardships due to the road blockades and the gatherings might increase the coronavirus cases. Others want “conciliation” between the government and farmers and scrapping of new laws.

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