Noting that the Centre’s negotiations with farmer groups protesting against the new farm laws did not appear to be yielding results, the Supreme Court said Wednesday it will form a committee comprising representatives of the Centre and farmer organisations to try and resolve the impasse.
Issuing notice, the top court said it will ask farmer organisations to be part of the committee as this will soon become a national issue. The matter will be heard again Thursday.
Heading a three-judge bench hearing a clutch of petitions seeking removal of farmers protesting at the borders of Delhi, Chief Justice of India S A Bobde told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta: “Your negotiation does not seem to work apparently. You should be willing to negotiate, and we should also have a farmer before us who is willing to negotiate.”
The bench’s remarks came on the day farmer organisations said they had sent a written response to the Centre, rejecting its December 9 proposal of concessions regarding changes in the farm laws.
Sanyukt Kisan Morcha leader Darshan Pal also asked the government to “stop maligning the farmers’ movement and stop parallel negotiations with other farmer organisations”.
The Supreme Court bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, said most of the petitions, seeking removal of the farmers in view of the Covid-19 and the hardship caused to the public on account of traffic blockade, appeared to be ill-conceived and devoid of any legal issue except freedom of movement.
“It’s by people who are not party to the case. The only one who has blocked the road is you,” the CJI told Mehta who responded saying, “We have not blocked the road.”
When he was asked who had stopped the protesters from crossing over to Delhi, Mehta said “Yes, that is the administration.”
The bench said, “We will form a committee to resolve the dispute. It will have members of the government, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) and other farmer organisations.”
It granted permission to implead the 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).
The Solicitor General told the bench that the government was negotiating with the farmers and will not take any action against them.
The petitioners contended that roads have been blocked by the protesters and border points closed, thereby adversely impacting vehicular traffic. This, they said, was causing hardship to people, including Covid-19 patients from accessing emergency medical services.
Appearing for one of the petitioners, law student Rishabh Sharma, Advocate Dushyant Tiwari drew the attention of the bench to the recent judgment in the Shaheen Bagh case wherein it was held that protests must be in designated areas only.
Advocate Om Prakash Parihar, also appearing for Sharma, said the protesters had gheraoed the borders.
“You want borders to be opened?” asked the CJI. “That’s what the court held in Shaheen Bagh matter, that public roads cannot be blocked”, Parihar replied.
The CJI then asked how many protesters were at Shaheen Bagh, to which Parihar said a few lakhs.
The CJI then said, “How many people had blocked the road there (Shaheen Bagh)?… Will the number of people not determine this? Who will take responsibility? There can be no precedent in a law and order situation.”
Advocate Reepak Kansal, appearing in a related petition, submitted that there has to be a balance. There is no free movement and ambulances are unable to go, he said, adding that this is a violation of fundamental rights under Article 19 (1).
It was then that the bench said most of the petitions seemed ill-conceived and lacked any legal issue except freedom of movement.
The bench sought to know the names of the agitating farmer leaders. The Solicitor General replied that the BKU was there, but other interests seemed to have taken over the protest.
“We are talking to them. Their approach is either repeal the Acts or don’t repeal. It’s either yes or no. Agriculture Minister and Home Minister have discussed with them, but they have turned their backs on us,” Mehta said, adding “positive dialogue can only be on clause-to-clause basis”.
“Your negotiation will again fail as they won’t agree,” the CJI said. He asked the Solicitor General to give the court names of organisations which can appear before it.
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