Supreme Court stays farm laws, names four-member committee to hear all stakeholders; farmers reject move, to go ahead with kisan parade

Published : Jan 12, 2021 22:30 IST

The Bhartiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait (white dress) talks to mediapersons after the Supreme Court order suspending the implementation of the new farm laws.

The Bhartiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait (white dress) talks to mediapersons after the Supreme Court order suspending the implementation of the new farm laws.

Even as the ongoing farmers’ agitation entered its 49th day, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian while hearing a batch of petitions on the validity of the farm laws and farmer protests, passed an interim order staying the three farm laws — the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Farmers Agreement on Price Assurance (Empowerment and Protection) and the Farm Services Act and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act — till further orders. It set up a four-member committee to “hear the government and the representatives of the farmers’ bodies and other stakeholders”.

The committee comprises of Ashok Gulati, agricultural economist; Pramod Kumar Joshi, Director, International Food Policy Research Institute (South Asia); Bhupinder Singh Mann, former Rajya Sabha member and chairman of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (All India Kisan Coordination Committee); and Anil Dhanwat, Shetkari Sangathana president. The committee has been asked to hold its first sitting within 10 days and submit its report to the court within two months. The court said it felt the need to constitute a committee as negotiations between the government and the farmers had yielded no results. The committee, it said, might create a “congenial atmosphere and improve the trust and confidence of the farmers”. A stay on the farm Acts, it held “would assuage the hurt feelings of the farmers and encourage them to come to the negotiating table with confidence and good faith”.

When the government questioned the powers of the court to stay the laws on the grounds that there was a “presumption in favor of the constitutionality of the provision”, the court cited a recent precedent from one of its orders ( Dr Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil vs the Chief Minister & Anr. ) to say that it was “not entirely powerless” to grant a stay on “an executive action under a statutory provision”.

In its interim order, the court said that “while we may not stifle a peaceful protest, we think that this extraordinary order of stay of implementation of the farm laws will be perceived as an achievement of the purpose of such protest at least for present”. It hoped that the order would “encourage the farmer bodies to convince their members to get back to their livelihoods both in order to protect their own lives and health and in order to protect the lives and properties of others”. It said the Minimum Support Price (MSP) would be maintained just as it was before the enactment of the farm laws and that the land holdings of farmers would be protected in that no farmer would be dispossessed or deprived of his title as a result of any action of the farm laws.

Farmers reject committee

The farmer unions have declined to participate in the court-appointed committee or for that matter any committee set up by anyone. The onus for resolving the issue, they said, was on the government. In a statement, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), representing over 500 farmer organisations welcomed the Supreme Court order upholding the farmers’ right to protest. It said that the farmers’ movement was not for a stay on the laws but their repeal. The stay, it said, could be overturned any time. All the four members of the committee, the SKM said, were in favour of the farm laws and it was unfortunate that the Supreme Court could not find a single objective individual to help out with its committee. There would be “no change in the programmes” scheduled on January 13, 18, 20 and 26, it stated.

All four committee members are said to hold views in favor of the farm laws and have been generally supportive of the government through their articles and publications which are in the public domain. On December 14, one of the committee members, Bhupinder Singh Mann, had even submitted a memorandum on behalf of the constituent organisations of his organisation, the AIKCC, to Narendra Tomar, Union Agriculture Minister, in support of the farm laws and suggested some amendments, including the removal of the Essential Commodities Act. The AIKCC had also said that the protests were a misinformation campaign by vested interests.

At their joint press conference at Singhu border, the SKM leaders said that they would not accept any committee. They said that they had already expressed their views when the court announced its intention to form a committee. “It is a ploy to divert the issue. We never asked for a committee” said Balbir Singh Rajewal, one of the prominent leaders of the movement. He said the Morcha was not a party to the petitions, had not petitioned the Supreme Court and it was the government that had insisted that the farmers approach the courts.

Responding to the court order, the working group of the All India Kisan Samgharsh Co-ordination Committee (AIKSCC), a constituent of the SKM said that “suspending the laws as an interim measure” was not a solution and the farmers had not asked for the suspension of the laws but their repeal. It said that the farmer unions would not participate in any court ordered process. The court, it said, was being “misguided by various forces even in its constitution of a committee”. The Kisan Parade, it said, would be held as planned in Delhi on Republic Day. The farmer unions had rejected a government proposal to set up a committee. “The dialogue is basically with an elected government about its policy directions and concomitant laws,” stated the working group of the AIKSCC.

Following the Supreme Court’s interim observations on January 11, the farmers’ organisations represented by the SKM stated that it respected the court’s comforting words for the protesters, but added that it would not participate in any committee process.

In its affidavit submitted on January 11 the government had said that the laws were not made in a hurry but were a result of two decades of deliberations; that farmers were happy as they were given an option and that the Centre had done its best to remove the apprehensions.

The next round of talks, the ninth round, is scheduled to be held January 15.

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