SC asks Centre to consider putting contentious farm laws on hold

The court, during the hearing conducted through video-conferencing, made it clear the issue of farmers’ protests and the others’ right to move freely would be dealt with on priority
The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the attorney general of India if the Central government could give a commitment that the contentious farm laws would not be put into effect while the petitions seeking the removal of farmers from protest sites to facilitate negotiations were being heard.

However, it acknowledged the farmers’ right to hold non-violent protests.

Chief Justice of India S A Bobde asked Attorney General K K Venugopal: “Can the Union say no executive action will be taken under the laws in order to facilitate negotiations?”

To this, Venugopal replied he would get back after talking to the Central government.

News agency PTI reported the attorney general said if the implementation of the farm laws was put on hold, farmers would not negotiate. In response the court said it was not asking the Centre to stay the farm laws but suggesting that its implementation be put on hold to enable the farmers to talk to the government.

The Bench did not pass an order on Thursday on the (public interest litigation, or PIL) petitions against the farmers’ protests because there was no representation from the eight farmer unions, which were added as respondents in the case.

It said it would pass orders on serving notices to the unions and give them the liberty to approach the Vacation Bench during the winter break.

Only the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Bhanu), which has filed an intervention application in the cases challenging the farm laws, appeared before the court.

The court, during the hearing conducted through video-conferencing, made it clear the issue of farmers’ protests and the others’ right to move freely would be dealt with on priority.

It also said it was thinking of setting up an “impartial and independent” panel of agricultural experts and farmer unions to resolve the impasse.

To this, reports said that senior advocate P Chidambaram, who was appearing for the state of Punjab, said he had no objection to the court’s suggestion that a group of people could facilitate a dialogue between the farmers and the government.

The court was of the view that the farmers’ right to protest should not impinge upon the fundamental rights of the others to move freely.

“You continue the protests. You have the right. But you have a purpose also and that purpose is served only if you talk, discuss and reach a conclusion,” the Bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde said, but added that in a democracy, the police and authorities had to be given the powers to prevent the protestors from infringing upon the rights of others. The Bench said it would pass orders on constituting a committee only after hearing all the parties, including the farmer unions. The Bench said the committee might include experts like P Sainath and representatives of the government and farmers’ bodies. The court referred to the protests by farmers in Delhi in 1988 and said the city was brought to a standstill.

Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar wrote an open letter to farmers, reiterating the Centre's offer to amend some clauses in the farm Bills, along with a written assurance on MSP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi later tweeted urging farmers to go through the letter. In the Delhi Assembly, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tore up copies of the three laws, saying he could not betray the country’s farmers. Addressing the Assembly, the chief minister alleged the laws “have been made for the electoral funding of the BJP and not the farmers”.

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