SC hints at staying implementation of farm legal guidelines; order on Tuesday

Satya Prakash 
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, January 11

Pulling up the government for poor handling of farmers’ agitation against farm laws, the Supreme Court on Monday said it intended to stay the implementation of the contentious laws and set up a committee to find an amicable solution to the problem.

“We are extremely disappointed with the way the government is handling the issue. Last four times you said negotiations are on. What negotiations are you talking about?.. If you have some sense of responsibility, and if you say you will withhold the implementation of laws, we will form a committee to decide,” a three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde told Attorney General KK Venugopal.

The court’s comments came after Venugopal said farmers’ organisations had rejected various offers made by the government.

“People are committing suicide. People are calling names. People are suffering in cold and the pandemic,” noted the Bench, which also included Justice AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.

“We don’t see why there should be an insistence that the laws must be implemented at any cost…Our intention is clear. We want an amicable solution to the problem. That is why we asked you last time, why don’t you keep the laws on hold? But you keep asking for time. We are not on the merits of the law. We are not on repeal,” it said.

The Bench posted the matter for passing a formal order on Tuesday.

During hearing on petitions challenging the validity of the three farm laws and those seeking removal of agitating farmers from Delhi roads, the top court described the situation as “very delicate”.

It said, “We are doing this because you have failed to solve the problem. The Union of India has to take the responsibility. The laws have resulted in a strike and now you have to solve the strike.”

“It will not help you to say that this was started by the last government… We have given you a very long rope. Don’t lecture us on patience. We will decide when to pass the order,” it told the government. It also commented that the law was acted without much consultation.

Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta vehemently opposed the court’s proposal to stay the implementation of the farm laws, saying farmers from other parts of the country supported the laws.

Venugopal said: “A law cannot be stayed by the Supreme Court unless the Lordships find that it violates the fundamental rights or constitutional schemes. Law has to be without the power to legislate, only then it can be stayed. No petitioners have raised any such issues”.

“Kindly remove the impression that we didn’t do enough. We gave our best. But the farmers groups have been non-cooperative during talks,” Mehta submitted.

“We have an apprehension that someone will do something a day which will lead to breach of peace. Each one of us will be responsible if something goes wrong. We don’t want anybody’s blood on our hands,” the Bench said.

As a lawyer said he had full faith in the top court, the CJI asserted, “Whether you have faith or not, we are the Supreme Court of India. We will do our job.”

The CJI said it was for the police to deal with the situation not the court.

The courts made it clear that it can’t restrain peaceful protest, saying it was for the police to deal with the situation, not the court. “We want to ensure there is no violence or bloodbath in the streets. If somebody breaks the law you take action”.

“We should not be understood that we are protecting any law breaker. If someone breaks the law, they will face the consequences. We are not encouraging breaking of law. We propose to pass this order to prevent loss of life and property,” the Bench noted.

The farmers’ unions were represented by senior advocates Dushyant Dave, HS Phoolka and Colin Gonsalves. Dave said he needed to take instructions as there were 400 farmers’ bodies involved in the agitation.

“Don’t create an odd situation where the unions went to the government, but won’t go to the committee,” the CJI told Dave, who sought a day’s time to respond. It asked Phoolka to persuade the women and old farmers to leave the protest site due to the cold and COVID19.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, representing a Delhi resident, cautioned the court against the possibility of protests getting scaled up to demand repeal of the laws following the stay order.

On behalf of the Delhi government, advocate Rahul Mehra alleged it was the ego of certain governments, which was not allowing a fair dialogue.

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