At this stage, farmers’ protest ought to be allowed to proceed: SC

Satya Prakash
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 17

The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to interfere with the ongoing agitation against farm laws by farmers from Punjab and some other states who have blocked certain entry points to the national capital for weeks, saying it was their fundamental right.

“We are of the view at this stage that the farmers’ protest should be allowed to continue without impediment and without any breach of peace either by the protesters or the police,” a Bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said during hearing on petitions seeking removal of agitating farmers from Delhi roads.

“We clarify that this court will not interfere with the protest in question. Indeed the right to protest is part of a fundamental right and can as a matter of fact, be exercised subject to public order,” it said.

“There can certainly be no impediment in the exercise of such rights as long as it is non-violent and does not result in damage to the life and properties of other citizens and is in accordance with law,” the Bench noted.

Harish Salve, who represented one of the petitioners, argued that “no right is absolute, not even right to free speech…We have to look at contouring of the right and not curtailment of right…One can’t hold a city to ransom and say either government listens to us or will stop the country”.

Salve wanted the court to direct the police to ensure normal life in Delhi was not affected by the blockade. However, the Bench turned it down, saying, it can’t pass such an order without hearing the farmers’ organisations.

To end the stalemate between protesting farmers and the government, the Bench decided to constitute a committee of independent and impartial persons including agriculture experts.

However, it said, “This may not be possible without hearing all the necessary parties. Till the parties come before us, it would be advisable to obtain suggestions about the constitution of the said committee from all the parties which may be submitted by them on the date of next hearing in the matter.”

While posting the matter for hearing after the winter vacation, the Bench gave liberty to the parties to move the vacation Bench, if necessary. It also posted petitions challenging the validity of the farm laws after the winter break.

However, it said, “The pendency of these matters will not prevent the parties from resolving the issue amicably.”

The top court sought to know from the Centre if it was ready to defer implementation of the farm laws that have led to protests by farmers who have blocked certain entry points to the national capital since November 26.

“Can the union say no executive action will be taken under the laws in order to facilitate negotiations,” it asked the Attorney General KK Venugopal.

The Attorney General said he would seek instructions even as Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said, “It will be tough.”

On behalf of the Punjab Government, senior advocate P Chidambaram said the farmers wanted to march to Delhi but they were stopped.

“The farmers didn’t block any road. The police did it,”he submitted.

“We want Parliament to convene and the parliamentarians to discuss the issue,” Chidambaram said.

He, however, said, “The State has no objection to the court’s suggestion that a group of people can facilitate a dialogue between farmers and the Central government.”

Venugopal expressed concern over violation of COVID-19 guidelines, saying it could lead to spread of the pandemic in villages once the protesting farmers go back.

“None of them wear a face mask, they sit together in large numbers. COVID-19 is a concern, they will visit villages and spread it there. They can’t violate fundamental rights of others,” the AG said.

Venugopal said, “Their demand is to repeal the three laws…They must be directed to come for discussion. They cannot say either repeal or will continue indefinitely.”

He said the damage caused by 22 days of blockade was enormous. “People are not able to go for jobs. Ambulances are not permitted to move. This kind of blockade cannot be permitted,” the AG said.

Terming it a “matter of national importance”, a Bench had on Wednesday issued notice to the Centre on the petition and said such issues needed to be resolved through negotiations.

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