Tribune News Service
New Delhi, December 17
The Supreme Court on Thursday sought to know from the Centre if it was ready to defer implementation of the farm laws that have led to protests by farmers from Punjab and some other states who have blocked certain entry points to the national capital for weeks.
“Can the Union say no executive action will be taken under the laws in order to facilitate negotiations,” a Bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde asked Attorney General KK Venugopal during hearing on petitions seeking removal of agitating farmers from Delhi roads.
As the Bench wanted the Centre to defer implementation of the farm laws during pendency of the matter, Venugopal said he would seek instructions even as Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said, “It will be tough.”
Since the CJI is not available during the winter vacation, the matter was likely to be listed before another Bench.
The top court said it recognised farmers’ right to protest against a law. However, the Bench said the right to protest must not infringe the fundamental right to free movement and getting essential food supplies of other citizens.
“Right to protest can’t mean blockade of capital city,” the Bench said, even as it wondered how such protests could be regulated.
“A protest is constitutional as long as it doesn’t damage property and lives. It’s an absolutely perfect protest. But the purpose can’t be realised if they continue to sit without talking. They have to talk to each other,” the CJI noted.
Harish Salve, who represented one of the petitioners, said, “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.”
The CJI turned down Salve’s request to direct the police to ensure that normal life in Delhi was not affected by the blockade, saying it can’t pass such an order without hearing the farmers’ organisations.
On behalf of 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 court’s suggestion that a group of people can facilitate a dialogue between farmers and Central Government.”
After hearing arguments from senior advocate Harish Salve for petitioners, Attorney General and Solicitor General for the Government, senior advocate P Chidambaram for Punjab Government and advocates for various farmers’ organisations, the Bench indicated that the matter would be listed before an appropriate Bench during winter vacation. It asked the petitioners to serve the remaining respondents in the case.
At the very outset, the top court made it clear that it will take up petitions challenging the validity of the farm laws separately some other day.
During the hearing, it indicated setting up a committee which might include experts such as P Sainath and representatives of the government and farmers’ bodies to resolve the deadlock over farm laws.
The Attorney General expressed concern over violation of COVID19 guidelines, saying it could lead to spread of the pandemic in villages once the protesting farmers go back.
“None of them wears a face mask, they sit together in large numbers. COVID19 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. For that they have to come to the table and discuss the laws clause by clause. 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. They have come prepared for six months.
“This kind of blockades cannot be permitted. This happens only during a war where you cut off supply etc and block borders,” the AG said.
The Supreme Court had on Wednesday issued notices to the Centre on petitions seeking removal of agitating farmers from roads in Delhi as commuters faced blockades since November 26 when thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Western UP descended on the national capital.
Terming it a “matter of national importance”, a Bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde had said such issues needed to be resolved through negotiations.
Asking the petitioners to make farmers’ bodies parties to the petition, it said a committee has to be formed of representatives of farmers’ organizsations and government nominees and other stakeholders to conduct negotiations to resolve the issue.
It had ordered eight farmers’ organisations to be added as parties to the case. The farmers’ bodies are: Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU–Rakesh Tikait), BKU-Sidhupur (Jagjeet S Dallewal), BKU-Rajewal (Balbeer Singh Rajewal), BKU-Lakhowal (Harinder Singh Lakhowal), Jamhoori Kisan Sabha (Kulwant Singh Sandhu), BKU-Dakaunda (Buta Singh Burjgill), BKU–Doaba (Manjit Singh Rai) and Kul Hind Kisan Federation (Prem Singh Bhangu).