SC irked over aspersions cast on members of court-appointed committee

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January 21, 2021 1:30 AM

The bench led by Chief Justice SA Bobde while hearing a fresh application by farmers’ groups Bhartiya Kisan Union Lokshakti and Kisan Mahapanchayat for re-constituting the panel, lamented that “brilliant people” have been subjected to “name-calling” just based on newspaper reports.

Lawyer Harish Salve, who is appearing for a Delhi-based citizen who wants to remove protesters from the Delhi borders, submitted that he will file a contempt petition if any more “nonsense” is said about the members of the panel.Lawyer Harish Salve, who is appearing for a Delhi-based citizen who wants to remove protesters from the Delhi borders, submitted that he will file a contempt petition if any more “nonsense” is said about the members of the panel.

Expressing disappointment over the “unnecessary aspersions” cast on the members of the expert committee set up to address the farmers’ grievances on the three farm laws, the Supreme Court on Wednesday hit back at the farmers’ unions, saying the opinion of these experts in favour of the legislation did not disqualify them from sitting on the panel.

The bench led by Chief Justice SA Bobde while hearing a fresh application by farmers’ groups Bhartiya Kisan Union Lokshakti and Kisan Mahapanchayat for re-constituting the panel, lamented that “brilliant people” have been subjected to “name-calling” just based on newspaper reports.

“The basis of your application is that all four people are disqualified. How did you come to this conclusion? They are brilliant minds in the field of agriculture. How do you malign them just because they have expressed some views in the past? How can you play with people’s reputation like this?” Justice Bobde asked the farmers’ groups.

He further said that a person does not have to hold on to his opinion forever. “There are judges who hold views on a particular subject, that does not mean that lawyers decline to argue before them. The opinions can change during the hearing,” the CJI said.

The CJI told counsel for the farmer unions that it was their choice to appear or not to appear before the panel. “But you cannot malign people like this and cast aspersions on them and the court. Why do you need to brand people like this? You cannot malign people according to the majority opinion?”

The CJI also said that the committee was formed only to listen to the farmers’ concerns against the three farm laws and make a report to the court and had no adjudicatory powers.

“Where is the question of bias? The Supreme Court appoints a committee and their reputation is torn to shreds,” Justice Bobde told the farmers’ groups.

However, the apex court sought response from Attorney General KK Venugopal on the application seeking to reconstitute the expert panel. The farmer unions had opposed the committee because its members were in favour of the three new farm laws. They had asked the SC to remove them as they had openly favoured the new farm laws.

The SC had set up a four-member committee to break the deadlock and facilitate the resolution of the issues between the farmers and the government. Bhartiya Kisan Union leader Bhupinder Singh Mann, one of the members of the expert panel has recused himself from the committee after concerns were raised regarding his neutral stand on the issue.

The other three members are Parmod Kumar Joshi, Agricultural Economist, 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, Shetkari Sanghatana.

Lawyer Harish Salve, who is appearing for a Delhi-based citizen who wants to remove protesters from the Delhi borders, submitted that he will file a contempt petition if any more “nonsense” is said about the members of the panel.

The apex court reiterated its previous stance on the decision to allow or disallow the protesters to enter the Capital and stage the planned tractor rally on Republic Day, that it is for the police to decide. The court allowed the Centre to withdraw its plea. The Centre had been urging the SC to order the farmers not to carry out the tractor rally as any rally or protest that disrupts or disturbs the Republic Day celebrations will cause “an embarrassment to the nation.”

“We see it as irregular and improper to allow or disallow any rally or procession. The norm is it is a police matter. The police decide it. We are not going to pass the order,” the CJI said.

Farmer leaders, however, clarified that the rally will be peaceful. “They are going to celebrate Republic day and won’t breach peace with their tractor rally,” counsel Prashant Bhushan assured the SC. Insisting on the importance of situation remaining peaceful, the CJI also told Bhushan that he should advise his clients, not only as their lawyer but also a senior member of legal fraternity to ensure that Delhi residents do not have to experience any unsavoury incident on Republic Day.

When Attorney General KK Venugopal also informed the court that “5,000 tractors” were scheduled to enter Delhi and that they would go all over the city, the Chief Justice said he the bench trusted Bhushan’s assurance that it will all be peaceful.

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