New Delhi, Jan 11
The Supreme Court Monday hinted that it could stay the implementation of the three contentious Farm Laws as it came down heavily on the Government for insisting on continuing with the legislations despite the farmers’ protest.
A bench led by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde told senior Government law officers—Attorney General KK Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta—that the Government had failed to hold effective negotiations with the protesting farmers, and reiterated the need for a Court-appointed committee to break the ensuing logjam.
A stay, the Court said, would be an attempt to make the atmosphere conducive for talks and avert a law-and-order problem.
The Court also faulted the Government for framing the agricultural laws without enough consultation, which it said resulted in the ongoing protest.
However, the bench also made it clear that the protesting farmers gathered at Delhi’s borders would have to move to another site to carry on with their agitation.
The bench will pass a formal order later in the day and is expected to hold another hearing Tuesday on the constitution of a committee to resolve the deadlock between the Central Government and the farmers. A former CJI is likely to be a member of the panel, with CJI Bobde informing the parties in the case that he had spoken with former CJI P Sathasivam.
“Since he does not know Hindi, he declined to be part of the panel,” the CJI said, seeking recommendations for committee members.
At this, senior advocate Dushyant Dave, who was appearing for protesting farmers, suggested former CJI RM Lodha’s name. The Court said it will consider the recommendation.
Tens of thousands of farmers have been protesting for over a month at Delhi’s borders, asking the Central Government to withdraw the three laws approved by Parliament in September and also give a legal guarantee for federally fixed minimum-support price.
So far, the Government has agreed to two demands of farmers — one not to pay direct cash to farmers instead of the power subsidy currently offered for agricultural use, and second, keeping farmers out of the ambit of an anti-pollution law that prescribes harsh penalties for crop-residue burning, which is considered a factor in the smog that envelops north India every winter.
“We do not want to repeat the criticism but we do not believe your negotiations are effective. We are attempting to make the atmosphere conducive by keeping the implementation of the laws in abeyance,” said the CJI.
The Court referred to suicides by farmers to say that it did not want any blood on its hands, and also voiced concern about the possibility of the protests turning violent. It noted: “Who is going to take responsibility for bloodshed if this sabre-rattling goes on and results in conflagration?”
This is the second time the Court has expressed its dissatisfaction over the Government’s inability to end the stalemate between the two sides. While farmers have remained adamant with their demand that the three laws be repealed, the Central Government has refused to do so.
‘We have to stay the law’s implementation because of you’
When Venugopal claimed the laws were based on the recommendation of various expert committees set up by past Governments, including those of the UPA, the CJI cut him short.
“It will not help to say that some other Government started it. We are not on the merits of the laws,” the CJI said.
Venugopal complained the farmers were being stubborn with their demand to repeal the laws and refused to air their grievances. “They say either repeal the laws or we will continue with the protest,” he said.
To this, the CJI replied that the farmers will be heard by the Court-appointed committee, and clarified that the Court’s intention was to “bring an amicable resolution to the problem”.
Referring to the SC’s talk of a stay, Venugopal requested the bench not to take such a drastic decision and to wait for some more time before passing orders. But the CJI was in no mood to relent.
“Sorry to stay, we have to, because you, as the Union of India, did not take responsibility. You were not able to solve the problem. You should have been able to solve the strike, but you did not,” CJI Bobde told the attorney.
Mehta sought to defend the Government when the CJI asked him if the Government was part of the problem or the solution. The solicitor said many organisations had come forward to support the laws as progressive.
Venugopal informed the bench that 2,000 contracts had been signed after the laws were cleared. A stay, he said, would adversely affect such agreements.
But the CJI rued that the Centre had not responded to the Court’s suggestion to put the laws on hold.
“We don’t see why there is an insistence on implementation of the laws. It’s our intention to see if we can bring about an amicable resolution to the problem. That is why we asked you, why don’t you put the Farm Bills on hold. You want time for negotiation. If there is some sense of responsibility then you will not implement the laws,” the bench said.
‘Tell aged farmers CJI wants them to go back’
Mehta told the Court that the Government has done its best to defuse the situation but the farmers have been non-cooperative during the talks.
He even asked the Court to pass an injunction order to restrain the protests from disrupting the Republic Day celebrations, referring to a proposed tractor rally by farmers on that day. Even as the Court asked Mehta to file an application for the direction, Dave said no tractor rally will be held on Republic Day.
On Mehta’s assertion that the court had made “harsh observations on the handling of the situation”, the CJI observed: “Why harsh? It was the most innocuous observation possible on the handling of the situation.”
The CJI went on to address the lawyers representing the protesting farmers, and asked them to convince aged people and women participating in the agitation to go back.
“I want to take a risk. I want you to tell them that the CJI wants them to go back. Try to persuade them. At some time, we might say in the order that old people and women need not be there in the protests,” the CJI said.
He reposed his trust in the senior advocates to tell the farmers about the real purpose of the committee, and clarified that the court is not creating an alternative forum.
“We are not stifling protests. You can carry on the protest but the question is whether it should be held at the same site,” the CJI said. The Print