Disgruntled groups, with enough clout to gherao Delhi, can now challenge any law and get it kept in abeyance
Setting up a panel to negotiate between the farmers and the Union government pushes past the Court’s remit.
It is true that an end to the farmer agitation is nowhere in sight so far, and if rallying farmers were to disrupt the Republic Day celebrations—there has been talk of the recent tractor rally being a dress rehearsal for this, though the farmers’ groups lawyers have told the SC that no such move is planned—it would send a dangerous signal to the rest of the polity. But, the Supreme Court “staying the implementation” of the three farm-reform laws that the farmers are protesting against (a three-judge bench headed by CJI SA Bobde indicated this on Monday) and setting up a panel to negotiate a resolution would be an egregious breach of the separation of powers. While the apex court should have concerned itself with the question of the constitutionality of the farm laws—which is what has been challenged in a clutch of petitions, including that of the Bharatiya Kisan Union—CJI Bobde, on Monday, seemed to be of the belief that the Union government had made the laws “without enough consultation” and without a wide or deep enough consultative process,“many states were up in rebellion”. Even though these are oral observations, such a prelude to the eventual judgment in the matter can only be seen as the court assuming the executive’s functions. Setting up a panel to negotiate between the farmers and the Union government pushes past the Court’s remit. More so, against the backdrop of the farmers nnow demanding that mandatory MSP be legislated, along with the three laws being repealed.
What is really dangerous, though, is the precedent the apex court is setting for various interest groups for future debates over contentious laws. By allowing for an extra-Parliamentary method to settle debates over laws, the court is not only undermining the legislative, but also faith in representative democracy. It is telling the masses that the way to arm-twist the government on laws that affect their interest is to generate enough heft to lay siege to the capital, or the Parliament building or any such vital office, and question the laws in court—the SC can then set up a ‘neutral’ panel to look into the matter and bend the executive to the ‘people’s will’. It isn’t hard to imagine the disorder if, say, each side of the divide on something as fractious as the reservation policy were to adopt this strategy. Indeed, it will shake the common faith in the government’s legislative and implementation capabilities.
That apart, it is hard to see how the court-appointed panel is going to come up with a solution acceptable to both parties, the Centre and the farmers. While the farmers’–largely from Punjab and Haryana—want the law scrapped altogether and the MSP made mandatory, the Union government has already said that it will not scrap the laws. And mandatory MSP effectively means that the government will be the only buyer; given MSPs are typically 15-20% higher than the market rate, private trade will not buy and the government will be blamed if farmers face deep distress from being unable to sell their produce. This, in turn, will mean the government’s bill will get bloated to unsustainable levels. Indeed, negotiations, even by a SC-appointed panel are bound to fail if panel members representing the two parties’ interests are unable to come to an agreement. It will be a return to the stalemate; even if the farmers’ agree to suspending their protests for the duration of the negotiations, if the eventual solution is not acceptable to them, it will be back to square one.