Supreme Court stays implementation of new farm laws, forms panel to resolve impasse

The Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended the implementation of three controversial farm laws, terming its order as the “victory of fair play”.

“If there is a victory at all, it is the victory of fair play,” Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde corrected senior advocate Harish Salve.

The CJI was responding to an apprehension expressed by Salve that some should not misconstrue the stay on the implementation of the laws as a “political victory” of sorts.

“The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act shall be stayed until further notice,” Chief Justice Bobde said at the end of an hour-long virtual court hearing.

The stay on their implementation means the Centre cannot, for the time being, proceed with any executive actions based on the three laws.

The government has projected the three farm laws as significant reforms in the agriculture sector to remove intermediaries and allow farmers to sell anywhere. The government has even projected the laws as an antidote to lowering demands during the pandemic.

However, protesting farmers consider the laws as the key to an exploitative regime which would ultimately lead to the loss of their lands.

“We will protect the farmers’ lands,” Chief Justice Bobde addressed the fear.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said farmers had fallen prey to the “basic misapprehension” that the laws would lead to agricultural land loss. “The law is only for voluntary contract farming of crops. Agricultural land will remain immune,” Mehta submitted.

“But all farmers have is their land to pay in case of any damages caused by them,” advocate Manohar Lal Sharma, for some farmers, retorted.

The court formed an expert committee to hear the apprehensions raised by the farmers against the laws.

The committee comprises Bhupinder Singh Mann, agriculture economist Ashok Gulati, Dr Pramod Kumar Joshi (former director, National Academy of Agricultural Research Management) and Anil Dhanawat. The committee will report back to the court.

The court was undeterred by certain farmers’ bodies’ statements on Monday, declining to co-operate with the court’s committee.

“There is no power on earth which can prevent us from forming the independent committee. We want to solve the problem. We want to understand the ground situation. This is not politics. You have to co-operate,” Chief Justice Bobde told the farmers’ side.

The CJI made it clear that the implementation of the laws have been stayed to facilitate negotiations with the committee.

“This is not an empty suspension of the laws… All people who want to genuinely resolve the problem should go to the committee… We are willing to suspend the law, but not indefinitely and without any activity on the ground. We don’t want inactivity. We want to hear you tell the committee which part of the law needs to be changed, etc. You can go one by one and tell the committee what your problems are,” Chief Justice Bobde told the farmers.

At this point, Salve pointed out that senior advocates Dushyant Dave, H.S. Phoolka and Colin Gonsalves, who represented 400 protesting farmers’ bodies, have not even logged into the virtual court hearing. They were supposed to consult with their clients on the committee’s formation and report back to the court on Tuesday.

“We are not forming the committee to appease everyone’s opinion about it. We are forming the committee for our purpose, to understand what is the situation on the ground,” Chief Justice responded.

Chief Justice Bobde said the clients of these three lawyers could directly approach the committee, if they wanted, with their complaints.

The court further issued formal notice on an application by the Centre, through the Delhi Police, for an injunction order against farmers holding any tractor/trolley/vehicle march which may disrupt the Republic Day celebrations on January 26.

The court also asked Attorney General K.K. Venugopal to find out whether any banned organisations have infiltrated the farmers’ protest. Venugopal agreed to refer to intelligence reports and file an affidavit in this regard.

Advocate A.P. Singh, for Bharatiya Kisan Union (Bhanu), said senior citizens, women and children have agreed to the CJI’s appeal to not participate in the protests.

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, for a section of farmers, addressed the court’s suggestion to shift their protest from the Delhi borders.

“If farmers don’t get a prominent place to protest, then we can go on protesting indefinitely without anyone noticing the protest. Everybody is saying Ramlila Maidan. Right from Independence that has been the traditional place of protest in this city,” Singh said.

Singh said in the Shaheen Bagh judgment case, the Supreme Court had asked the government to frame guidelines for a place of protest.

“Till date, they have not framed the guidelines, giving room for the government to act arbitrarily and declaring Section 144 wherever they want,”  Singh said.

The Chief Justice said matters of law and order was left to the police.

“If the protest is allowed to enter city, it should be within the power of police to see a specified number of people enter unarmed,” the CJI said.