The latest round of talks between farmers’ unions and the Union government has produced little more than déjà vu: Both sides stuck to their positions and decided on the date on which the next round of talks would be held. However, there are reports about the government suggesting to the farmers unions that the issue be settled in the court of law. As per them, the government has said if the court pronounces them unconstitutional or illegal, then it will repeal the laws and if the court sustains them, then the farmers should withdraw their agitation. Representatives of the farmers unions have made it public that they have no plans to go by the suggestion.
Leaving such an important issue to the court is not the way to settle it. This is so for several reasons. The farmers have consistently made it clear that they are not questioning the constitutionality or legality of the issue. For them, it’s a policy decision by the government to withdraw from supporting agriculture and leave it to the whims and fancies of the corporate sector. This will undermine whatever sense of security the farming community enjoys at present, they say. They have opposed the proposed amendment to the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which, they feared, will cut power subsidies for the farming sector. Their grouse has been that all the bills together reflect the policy of the government — it is plotting to eliminate the agriculture market system in the garb of giving farmers more options, as the laws allow corporates unbridled freedom to monopolise procurement of agriculture produce and make farmers their captive producers. They warn the government to abandon it, legal or not.
There is a section of legal experts who hold the view that the Centre has legislated on agriculture which is a state subject and hence moving the court makes sense. And the courts are expected to make use of the all-powerful tool of judicial review to test pieces of legislations against the Constitution. They have done it in the past and held several of the laws unconstitutional. However, courts, especially the Supreme Court, show no enthusiasm to wield that constitutional power when it is required, and required urgently. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, and the virtual annulment of Article 370 are two legislative steps this government has taken which many perceive to be questioning the very idea of India as reflected in the Constitution. They have moved the apex court but the court has not found it compelling enough to take up. The petitions have been pending with the court for more than a year now. There is no guarantee that the courts will treat this issue differently.
Democratic governments have the right to legislate and the government has exercised that power, though in a questionable way — that the bills were rushed through Parliament is a fact even the government would not oppose. Now, the affected people are exercising their right, the right to protest, to compel the government to go back on its move. It is a matter to be decided in the spirit of democracy; calling upon an even-otherwise-reticent judiciary to decide on policy is hardly an option....