The ball is now in farmers’ court

Though the apex court has suspended the operation and implementation of the three controversial farm laws until further orders and constituted a committee to consult the concerned parties, farmers refuse to budge as they don’t trust the ‘pro-laws’ members, reports MUDIT MATHUR

The Supreme Court of India came forward to salvage the warring situation between steadily struggling farmers and an equally adamant central government from the point of no returns. The apex court suspended the operation and implementation of the three farm laws until further orders. Further, it has constituted a committee to consult farmers and other interested persons.

However, the agitating farmers declined to participate in the proceedings of the committee and continued unrelentingly ahead with their pre-declared plans. As many as 76 farmers have sacrificed their lives due to acute cold conditions including a few committed suicides protesting against farm laws.

Heading a three-judge bench of the apex court comprising of Justices AS Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian with him, the Chief Justice SA Bobde said, “We believe in the Committee and we are going to constitute it.” “This Committee will be the part of judicial proceedings,” he added. The bench suspended until further orders the implementation of the controversial farm laws- ‘Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020,’ Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020’ and Essential Commodities(Amendment) Act, 2020.

The CJI S.A. Bobde also mentioned the names of Agricultural economist Ashok Gulati, Bhupinder Singh Mann, President BKU and All India Coordination Committee, Pramod Kumar Joshi (Director South Asia international Food Policy), Anil Ghanwat (Shethkari Sangathan) to be the members of the Committee, that is expected to resolve the deadlock between Government and protesting farmers. The apex court passed these interim orders on a bunch of petitions challenging the Farm Laws/seeking removal of protesting farmers from Delhi borders.

Justice Bobde mentioned, “Every person who is genuinely interested in solving the problem is expected to go before the Committee. The Committee will not punish you or pass any orders. It will submit a report before the court.”

“We are looking to solve the problem. If you want to agitate indefinitely, you can. Every person who is genuinely interested in solving the problem is expected to go before the Committee. We are going to take the opinion of the organizations. We are forming the Committee so that we have a clearer picture,” Justice Bobde explained.

The protesting farmers unions had expressed their disinclination to participate in the negotiation talks before a committee proposed by the top court as they are not ready to accept anything less than repeal of three enactments. The ‘Samyuktha Kisan Morcha’ issued a statement late on eve of the apex court orders expressing that while all organisations welcome the suggestions of the supreme court to stay the implementation of the farm laws, they are not inclined to participate in any proceedings before a committee that may be appointed by the court.

The farmers’ unions, in their joint statement, said that the talks before the committee would be futile in view of the consistent and unyielding attitude taken by the central government before the Court that it will not repeal the three farm laws. Even after the clear indication of staying, the implementation of farm laws from apex court the central government made it repeatedly clear that it would not agree to any discussion on the repeal of farm laws. Therefore, scope of talks could not be there.

The apex court clarified that the court will not pass any direction to stop the protests so long as they continue in a peaceful manner. The CJI further expressed concerns over the presence of large number of old people and women among the protester, amid the harsh winter and the COVID19 pandemic, and urged the lawyers representing the unions to persuade them to return to their villages.

Reacting over the orders of apex court, the leader of Bhartiya Kisan Union Chaudhri Rakesh Tikait said, “The demand of farmers is to repeal the law and make the minimum support price a law. The movement will continue till this demand is met.” “The United Front will announce further strategy after examining the order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court,” he added while twitting his first reaction over the orders.

Chaudhri Tikait also expressed his reservation on the name of one of the committee member Ashok Gulati on whose recommendations government initiated farm laws enactments. 

The farmer unions reiterated that they will not participate in any court-ordered committee process and 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 3 Acts and have actively advocated for the same,” a statement issued by Dr. Darshan Pal of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) said.

Dr. Pal said that the orders of apex court strengthened our perception that all the three farm laws are unconstitutional but since the interim stay of these laws is of temporary in nature and can be reverted at any time, therefore we cannot withdraw our agitation without repeal of these laws. We are not going to change the further programmes of our peaceful agitation because of the stay as we had not approached the court. We had earlier rejected the suggestion of committee and we have no trust in the committee formed by the Supreme Court, as its members publically supported the three farm laws.

The farmers would burn the copies of these enactment during Lohri festival on 13th January, on 18th January will celebrate ‘Mahila Kisan Diwas,’ on 20th January will take pledge of struggle in the memory of Guru Govind Singh, on 23rd January on the occasion of Azad Hind Kisan Diwas will demonstrate in front of all the Raj Bhawans of the states and on Republic Day farmers would reach Delhi from all over India to participate Kisan Republic parade, Dr. Darshan Pal added.

Congress Party also demanded repeal of all the three farm laws terming it “Black Laws.” Eight rounds of talks failed due to rigid stand of Modi government.  Farmers are the backbone of our nation and it is the prerogative of every government to protect them. The Congress party has always fought to defend our nation’s farmers, whether it is with changes to the Land Acquisition Act or ensuring return of their lands.

Reacting over the orders of apex court spokesperson of Congress Party Randeep Singh Surjewala questioned the impartiality and uprightness of the members appointed by it quoting their opinions favouring three farm laws in public domain as well as in the government. They had openly supported farm laws and demanded its implementation through their write-ups and memorandum submitted to government.

“They termed the agitation of farmers as misguided and advocated for abolition of minimum support price (MSP) and procurement by the government saying it unfeasible. One of the petitioners too has found place in the committee as he supported farm laws and pledged support to Modi government’s move,” alleged Surjewala.  

Expressing her dismay over the apex court orders staying farm laws, a well-known Supreme Court advocate Karuna Nundy twitted, “The terrible precedent in “suspending” laws without a prima facie finding of unconstitutionality is especially worrying. It opens the door for SC to “suspend” any law for extra constitutional reasons.”

Social activist working on issues of transparency and accountability Anjali Bhardwaj while commenting on the affidavit filed before the court twitted, “Govt. has made tall claims in affidavit to SC about extensive consultations before passing Farm Laws. However, RTI reveals that it failed to comply with its Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy, which requires draft laws has to be put in public domain for 30 days for inviting comments.

During the eighth round of talks, the farmers repeatedly told the government to repeal the three farm laws so they can go back home but the centre kept reminding them about national interest.

The government also pointed out that several farmer groups across the country had welcomed the farm laws.

The protesting farmers then reminded the centre that agriculture was primarily a state subject and the states should frame farm laws instead of the centre.

However, not all effort has gone waste. The government has agreed to demands of farmers over regulating power subsidy as per the electricity amendment bill and the imposition of fine for stubble burning which chokes the Delhi-National Capital Region every year.

Despite this, the farmers said their protests will go on as the main demands were still pending.

The protests across Delhi’s borders with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh that started November 26, 2020 will complete two months on January 26 when the farmers plan to stage a mega tractor rally in the national capital to coincide with the annual Republic Day parade.

The agitation has generated huge sympathy for the farmers who have braved intense cold wave conditions and winter rains to press for their demand.

Though several political parties have supported the cause of the farmers, the peasants have shown wisdom in keeping their protests apolitical, people-driven and peaceful.

In the initial days, there were some attempts to brand the farmers as Khalistanis (Sikh separatists) and Maoists (Left-wing extremists) but their persistence paid off.