New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday expressed its strong disappointment with the Narendra Modi government’s handling of the farmers agitation seeking the repeal of three controversial farm laws, as the court indicated that it intends to set up a committee that will examine the laws, and till it submits its report the implementation of the laws will be put on hold.
As the farmers’ agitation entered Day 48 on Monday, Chief Justice Sharad A. Bobde expressed anguish over the government’s failure to resolve the “strike” by the agitating farmers, who are braving the biting cold of winter. CJI Bobde, heading a bench that also comprised Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian, said: “We propose to form a committee and if the government does not (on its own offer not to enforce the laws), then we will stay the implementation of the farm laws. We are extremely disappointed with the way the Centre is dealing with this. We are doing this because you have failed to solve the problem. The government has to take responsibility. The laws have resulted in a strike and now you have to resolve the strike.”
The court’s strong observation came as attorney-general K.K. Venugopal resisted the suggestion from the court to stay the controversial laws. In an apparent concession, CJI Bobde said that they will put on hold their implementation, making a distinction between the stay of a law and the stay of its implementation. The court said staying the implementation of the farm laws will ease tensions and prevent the situation getting violent.
Objecting to any stay of the farm laws, Mr Venugopal asserted the laws were beneficial for farmers, and said: “The laws are within the legislative competence of Parliament and are intended to benefit the farmers.”
The court recalled that in past hearings, it had given the Centre an option to make a statement that it will not go ahead with the implementation of the three laws till the contentious issues are resolved.
The government in earlier hearings was not enthusiastic over the court’s suggestion not to go ahead with enforcing the laws, as Mr Venugopal had said in that situation the agitating farmers would not come for talks. On Monday too, the A-G said the agitating farmers will have to give up their demand for the repeal of the farm laws.
Discomforted over the court’s taking a dim view of the Centre’s handling of the farmers’ agitation, solicitor general Tushar Mehta protested and said that the court’s observations were “harsh”, insisting the government did its best to break the deadlock and resolve the issue.
“You did your best, but it did not seem to have any effect”, CJI Bobde then quipped, appearing unimpressed.
The court is likely to pronounce orders on Tuesday on issues related to the farm laws and the farmers’ protests at Delhi’s borders and may take a call on setting up a committee headed by a former Chief Justice of India to find ways to resolve the impasse.
In this regard, senior counsel Dushyant Dave, appearing for some of the farmers’ organisations, suggested the name of former Chief Justice R.M. Lodha to head the committee and offered to speak to him.
The court also voiced its concern over the protests taking a violent turn, taking note of what had happened on Sunday in Haryana. “Who is going to be responsible for bloodshed? We need to uphold Article 21 as a constitutional court. What if some conflagration takes place?” the CJI Bobde said, in a poser.
CJI Bobde asked the various farmers’ unions and outfits who were party to the matter to persuade the women, the old and children to go back to their native places. “Can you convey to them the Chief Justice has made this request,” he told Mr Dave and H.S. Phoolka, who were appearing for the farmers.
The court once again reiterated that it can’t interfere with the farmers’ right to agitate against the farm laws but hoped they could shift to another venue to ease the inconvenience being caused to the public.
“People are committing suicide. People are calling names. People are suffering in the cold and pandemic situations… Who is taking care of the water and food? Old people and women are on the ground,” CJI Bobde added. However, the court clarified it had already held that the farmers’ protest is perfectly valid, and there should not be any impression that it is trying to stifle the protest.