New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday left it to the Delhi police to decide on the entry of protesting farmers into the national capital on Republic Day, as it heard the government’s plea seeking an injunction against the tractor rally planned for January 26.
Sticking to their stand, the union leaders said the protesting farmers had a constitutional right to take out their tractor rally peacefully and said thousands of people will participate in the event. The proposed 50-km “kisan rally” will be led by women-driven tractors on Outer Ring Road and won’t disrupt the day’s big parade on Rajpath. Farmers have started organising mock rallies in parts of Punjab and Haryana to encourage more people to join the “kisan tractor march” in large numbers.
The tenth round of talks between the government and the farmers’ representatives was on Monday pushed back by a day to January 20, with the Centre saying both sides want to resolve the stalemate at the earliest but it was “getting delayed due to the involvement of people of other ideologies”.
“The government’s ministerial meeting with the farmers unions will be held on January 20 at 2 pm at Vigyan Bhavan, instead of January 19,” the agriculture ministry said in a statement late on Monday. A Supreme Court-appointed panel to resolve the crisis is, meanwhile, due to hold its first meeting on Tuesday.
“The government’s ministerial meeting with protesting farmers’ unions was fixed on January 19. Due to inevitable reasons, it has become important to postpone the meeting. Now the meeting will be held on January 20 at 2 pm at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi. Request you to attend the meeting,” agriculture secretary Sanjay Agarwal said in a letter to 40 farmers’ unions.
There are indications the tractor rally may also figure in the tenth round of negotiations between the farmers and Central ministers. The two sides have failed to reach any understanding in nine rounds of talks over the repeal of three Central farm laws and the MSP Act.
In the Supreme Court, a three-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad Arvind Bobde on Monday said the Delhi police was at liberty to invoke its powers under the law and it has the power to deal with law and order situations. “Who should be allowed and the number of people to enter are all matters of law and order, to be decided by the police. We are not the first authority,” Chief Justice Bobde said.
To this, attorney-general K.K. Venugopal said: “It is an extraordinary situation and the court may pass orders”, noting that “public order”, “police”, “land” and “services” in the national capital are under the direct purview of the Centre. Calling the proposed tractor rally “illegal”, Mr Venugopal told the court an order from it would “strengthen” the hands of the government as it was facing an “unprecedented situation”. An unmoved CJI Bobde shot back, asking: “Does the Union of India need the Supreme Court to tell it what powers it has under the Police Act?” He said the court hadn’t taken up the entire issue of the farmers’ agitation and its intervention had been “misunderstood”.
“Does the Supreme Court say what are the powers of the police and how they will exercise them? We are not going to tell you what to do,” replied the bench, which included Justices L.N. Rao and Vineet Saran. The court told Mr Venugopal that since it was not the same bench that was hearing the matter, it was adjourning the hearing till January 20.
The Centre, in an application filed through the Delhi police, said that any rally or protest that may disrupt/disturb the Republic Day celebrations will cause an “embarrassment to the nation”.
The farmer unions’, which are firm on holding the rally on Republic Day, have pledged that the protesters will not carry weapons or indulge in any inflammatory speeches or violence. They also clarified there will be no occupation or attack on any government building during the parade, that will see tractors start their journey from their respective positions at the Delhi borders and return to the same place.
“Farmers will celebrate Republic Day with huge fervour. The tractor parade will move in a circle on Outer Ring Road, that goes around areas like Janakpuri, Munirka, Nehru Place, Tikri. We hope that the Delhi and Haryana police will not cause us any problems or restrictions. This will be a very peaceful protest since our biggest weapon is non-violence,” said Yogendra Yadav from Sanyukt Kisan Morcha.
Asked what would happen if the Delhi police doesn’t give permission for the tractor parade, BKU (Ekta Ugrahan) chief Joginder Singh Ugrahan said the farmers have a constitutional right to hold the tractor rally peacefully. “If the Delhi police has some issues over law and order on Republic Day, they can sit with the Sankyukt Kisan Morcha and give alternatives routes for the tractor rally. Then our farmers’ committee will decide. But we are very clear… the tractor rally will be taken out in the national capital on January 26.”
Bhartiya Kisan Union (Lakhowal) Punjab general secretary Paramjit Singh said farmers aren’t going to hold their rally on Rajpath or other high-security areas. He said: “We are stuck at Delhi’s borders. We have not decided to sit at these borders ourselves, we have been stopped from entering Delhi. We’ll take out the rally peacefully without disrupting law and order. We’ll exercise our constitutional rights and will definitely enter Delhi.”