The Supreme Court has rightly taken the Centre to task for its mishandling of the farmers’ agitation, which began in the last week of November and has shown no sign of abatement so far despite the severe cold and the loss of 60-odd lives. ‘Extremely disappointed’ — these words sum up the court’s reaction to the way the negotiations between the government and the farmer leaders over the contentious farm laws have progressed. The government’s dilly-dallying, aimed at wearing out the protesters, has cut no ice with the CJI-led Bench, which is keen on constituting a committee to break the deadlock.
In a scathing observation made in August last year, the apex court, while hearing a plea regarding the Tablighi Jamaat congregation, had said that governments did not act till the courts directed them to do so. A similar script is being played out now, with the Centre stubbornly sticking to its guns over the agriculture-related Acts and promising, at best, some amendments. What’s worse, the government has tried to pass off the stir as being Punjab-centric, whereas farmers from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and other states have also been vocal in opposing the laws. The vandalism witnessed on Sunday at Kaimla village in Karnal district, where Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar was scheduled to hold a kisan mahapanchayat but had to cancel it, unfortunately shows that the discontent is manifesting itself in violent ways and how quickly things can spin out of control.
Invoking Gandhi’s satyagraha, the court has reaffirmed the citizens’ right to stage a peaceful protest, even as it has expressed concern over the prolonged presence of agitators, especially the vulnerable elderly, at Delhi’s borders. It is hoped that the court’s welcome intervention will rouse the government to be part of the solution rather than of the problem. The Centre can no longer hide behind the fig leaf of the ‘potential benefits’ of the new laws. Its strategy of forcing the states to toe the line has backfired. The government has to learn to ‘let go’, starting with deferment of the implementation of the Acts.