A day after pulling up the Centre for its poor handling of farmers’ agitation, the Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed the implementation of the three farm laws being opposed by farmers who have blocked key entry points to Delhi since the third week of November last year.
We are looking to solve the problem. If you want to agitate indefinitely, you can. Those genuinely interested in solving the problem… can go before committee. It will not punish… pass orders. SC Bench
Bhupinder Singh Mann
BKU national president
Shetkari Sanghatana president
Pramod Kumar Joshi
Director-South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute
A Bench headed by CJI SA Bobde set up a four-member committee to hear various stakeholders on the three laws — Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance & Farm Services Act, Farmers’ Produce Trade & Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Act and Amendment to Essential Commodities Act — and report back to it.
Those named committee members are Bhupinder Singh Mann, Bharatiya Kisan Union national president; Pramod Kumar Joshi, Director, South Asia International Food Policy; agricultural economist Ashok Gulati and Shetkari Sanghatana leader Anil Ghanwat.
The panel will listen to the grievances of farmers on the laws and the views of the government and submit a report to the court containing its recommendations within two months from the date of its first sitting, which shall be held within 10 days. It posted the matter for hearing after eight weeks.
“The constitution of a committee of experts… to negotiate between the farmers’ bodies and the government may create a congenial atmosphere… a stay on implementation of the three 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,” it said.
While maintaining that it didn’t want to stifle a peaceful protest, the court said, “this extraordinary order of stay on 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.”
To allay fear regarding minimum support price (MSP) being done away with and possibility of farmers losing their land, the court said, “The MSP system in existence before the enactment of the farm laws shall be maintained until further orders. In addition, the farmers’ land holdings shall be protected, i.e., no farmer shall be dispossessed or deprived of his title as a result of any action taken under the farm laws.”
It said the representatives of all farmers’ bodies, whether they were holding a protest or not and whether they supported or opposed the laws shall participate in the deliberations of the committee and put forth their view.
The Bench turned down farmers’ demand that the Prime Minister himself should approach them for negotiations, saying he was not a party to the proceedings.
Earlier, Attorney General KK Venugopal opposed the stay, contending that “none of the petitioners who have attacked the farm laws have pointed out any single provision which is detrimental to the farmers and that the laws enacted by Parliament cannot be stayed by this court.” While appreciating Venugopal’s arguments, the Bench said, “This court cannot be said to be completely powerless to grant stay of any executive action under a statutory enactment” and went on to pass the stay order.
Many senior lawyers, who appeared on behalf of the farmers on Monday, were conspicuous by the absence on Tuesday. Several lawyers, including senior counsel PS Narasimha, representing Hyderabad-based Consortium of Indian Farmers Association (CIFA), said their clients were in favour of the farm laws.