New Delhi: In a major breather to the Narendra Modi government that’s caught in a cul-de-sac over the ongoing farmers’ agitation, the Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed the implementation of the three controversial farm laws for now, restored the Minimum Support Price System (MSP) that was prevalent before the enactment of farm laws and set up a committee of four agriculture experts to examine the laws and submit a report within two months. The two months, the court said, will start from the date of its first sitting and the first sitting has to take place within 10 days from Tuesday’s order.
The clarification of the three-member bench of the Supreme Court, that the suspension of the implementation of the three laws is not indefinite, and that the court will take a final call on the farm laws only after it examines the committee’s report, seems to suit the government which is resisting the farmers’ demand for repeal of the laws but is agreeable to making amendments.
The farmer unions, however, were not pleased and reiterated that they will not participate in the court-ordered committee process, charging that “all the members of this committee are pro-govt and had been justifying the laws of the government.” They added that they would not call off their protest until the newly enacted legislations are repealed. “It is clear that the court is being misguided by various forces even in its constitution of a committee. These are people who are known for their support to the three Acts and have actively advocated for the same,” a statement issued by All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) said.
Having stayed the implementation of farm laws “until further orders”, the court also directed that the farmers’ land holdings shall be “protected” and no farmer shall be “dispossessed or deprived” of his/her title of land as a result of any action taken under the farm laws.
“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 the present and will encourage the farmers bodies to convince their members to get back to their livelihood, both in order to protect their own lives and health and in order to protect the lives and properties of others,” the court said.
Noting that the negotiations between the farmers’ bodies and the government have not yielded any result so far, the court said, “We are of the view that the constitution of a committee of experts in the field of agriculture to negotiate between the farmers’ bodies and the Government of India may create a congenial atmosphere and improve the trust and confidence of the farmers… We are also of the view that a stay of implementation of all the three farm laws for the present may assuage the hurt feelings of the farmers and encourage them to come to the negotiating table with confidence and good faith.”
Chief Justice Sharad A. Bobde, taking note of the agitating farmers’ lukewarm response to the court’s suggestion on Monday to set-up a committee to examine the contentious laws, said on Tuesday that they are not forming the committee to “appease” everyone. He said that the committee will be a part of the “judicial proceedings” and its report will be for the purposes of the court. He was heading a bench also comprising Justice A.S. Bopanna and Justice V. Ramasubramania.
Making it clear that the suspension of the operation of three farm laws would not be for an indefinite period, the court said that the setting up of the committee will not be an “empty” exercise, making it clear that all those involved in the dispute, including government and the agitating farmers, will have to appear before it.
The court noted that senior lawyers Dushyant Dave, Colin Gonsalves, H.S. Phoolka and Prashant Bhushan representing different bodies of agitating farmers were not present in today’s hearing. And in an unequivocal message to the agitating farmers that they can’t veto the suggestion coming from the top court on setting up a committee to examine the laws, CJI Bobde said,“There is no power which can prevent us from forming a committee. We want to solve the problem. We want to understand the ground situation. This is not politics. You have to cooperate.”
“The representatives of all the farmers’ bodies, whether they are holding a protest or not and whether they support or oppose the laws, shall participate in the deliberations of the committee and put forth their view points”, the court said, making it obligatory for agitating farmers to appear before the expert committee.
The four-member committee that will scrutinise the three laws include Bhupinder Singh Mann, national president of the Bhartiya Kisan Union and the All India Kisan Coordination Committee; Dr Parmod Kumar Joshi, agricultural economist and director for South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute; Ashok Gulati, agricultural economist and former chairman of the commission for agricultural costs and prices, and Anil Ghanwat, president, Shetkari Sanghatana.
Mr Gulati and Mr Ghanwant have openly expressed their support for the three farm laws.
Three controversial farm laws, which the agitating farmers are contending aims to corporatise agriculture, and whose operation has been put on hold include Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance, Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
These laws were passed by Parliament during its monsoon session culminating on September 23, 2020. Earlier they were in force in the form of the Ordinances promulgated in June 2020. They were earlier approved by the Union Cabinet on June 3, 2020.
The top court on Tuesday also issued notice on government application to injunct the farmers from taking out a “Kisan tractor/trolley march” on Republic Day.
On Monday, when attorney general Venugopal told the court that there are reports that the farmers bodies may take out a tractor rally on January 26, 2021, disrupting the Republic Day parade and celebrations, senior counsel Dushyant Dave appearing for the agitating farmers’ bodies had rebutted it saying that at least one member of the family of each of the farmers from Punjab is in the Army and that they would not disrupt the Republic Day celebrations.