The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued notices to the Centre on petitions seeking removal of agitating farmers from roads in Delhi as commuters faced blockades since November 26 when thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Western UP descended on the national capital.
Terming it a “matter of national importance”, a Bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde said such issues needed to be resolved through negotiations.
Asking the petitioners to make farmers’ bodies parties to the petition, it said a committee had to be formed of representatives of farmers’ organisations and government nominees and other stakeholders to conduct negotiations to resolve the issue.
“We will form a committee to resolve the dispute. It will have members of Bharatiya Kisan Union, Government of India and other farmer organisations. We will ask farmer organisations also to be a part of the committee as it will soon become a national issue,” the CJI noted.
“All of you sit together. Prepare a tentative list of committee members,” the CJI said posting the matter for Thursday.
On behalf of the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that the government was in talks with the farmers. Members of BKU and some others were protesting at the site but some other elements had joined the protests, Mehta alleged without identifying the “other elements”. He said the government would not do anything against farmers’ interests.
As Delhi government counsel Rahul Mehra demanded repeal of farm laws, Mehta said the NCT government had no role in the matter.
There are several petitions on the issue. One of the petitioners, Rishabh Sharma, contended that “since the virus is spreading rapidly and the cases of Covid are increasing day-by-day in Delhi, it is paramount that this protest be stopped immediately”.
He demanded that the Delhi borders should be opened and protesters shifted to a designated place where they should follow norms, including physical distancing, to check the spread of Covid.
The petitioner contended it’s “very necessary” to remove the gathering as it blocked roads for all the emergency/medical services needed to stop the increasing spread of Covid.
Many people were frequently travelling to Delhi from different states in order to get treatment in big government hospitals situated in the capital, Sharma pointed out.
He submitted “that life of lakhs of people protesting at the Delhi borders is under immediate threat since the virus is very contagious and if by chance the coronavirus takes the shape of community spread, it will cause havoc in the country”.
Sharma sought “immediate intervention” of the top court to restrict the mass gathering of people at a particular place.
The petitioner said Delhi Police allowed protesters to hold demonstration peacefully at Nirankari Ground, Burari, in north Delhi, but despite that they blocked the borders of Delhi, preventing people from using roads.
Citing the top court’s recent verdict in Amit Sahni versus Commissioner of Police and Others, Sharma said protests which blocked the public way and caused grave inconvenience to commuters could not be allowed, and indeterminable number of people could not assemble wherever they chose to protest.
The petitioner said he moved the top court as the people affected by such irresponsible acts of the protesters and the state were not in a position to remove them, for they were huge in number even as the protest caused a lot of trouble to citizens.
Noting that Covid was declared a pandemic by WHO on March 11 and the government had issued various guidelines to restrict public gatherings to a maximum of 50 people, Sharma said despite that more than three lakh farmers had gathered on Delhi borders to protest against the farm laws.