Updated: October 5, 2021 5:43:06 am
The Supreme Court on Monday asked a farmer outfit that approached it seeking permission to hold protests against the three farm laws at Jantar Mantar what it wanted to protest against, given that the laws are not in force and were stayed by it.
A bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar also said that when incidents like Lakhimpur Kheri happen, “nobody takes responsibility” and added it will examine whether a party which has already approached a Constitutional court seeking remedy has an absolute right to simultaneously protest on the streets over the same issue.
“You are saying you want to protest, protest what? The Act has been stayed by the Court. The Centre has said it will not be implemented,” Justice Khanwilar asked as a petition filed by the farmer organisation, Kisan Mahapanchayat, seeking permission to hold protests at Jantar Mantar came up before the bench also comprising Justice C T Ravikumar.
“After hearing learned counsel for the concerned parties and the Attorney General for India, we deem it appropriate to examine the central issue as to whether the right to protest is an absolute right and, more so, the writ petitioner having already invoked the legal remedy before the Constitutional Court by filing writ petition, can be permitted to urge, much less assert, that they can still resort to protest in respect of the same subject matter which is already sub-judice before the Court,” the court said in its order after hearing Advocate Ajay Choudhary, the counsel for farmer outfit, Attorney General K K Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
On the previous date of hearing, the court had asked the outfit to file an affidavit stating that it is not part of the protests blocking highways.
On Monday, Choudhary told the bench the outfit has filed an affidavit stating it is not involved in any blockage on any route.
The bench then sought the AG’s assistance and asked “once a party approaches the court challenging the validity, where is the question of holding protests?”
Agreeing, the AG said, “The Government has made it very clear they are not going to withdraw the three laws, so the only choice is for them to take forward their challenge to the three laws…. We are on principle. Once you go to court and challenge executive action, how can the same party say that the matter is before court, nevertheless I will still protest?”
Chowdhary said the protest was not only against farm laws but also to seek, among others, the implementation of the Minimum Support Price as a statutory right.
But the bench asked, “What is the point protesting at Jantar Mantar when the procurement authority are the states?”
The court said the parties before it cannot do both — challenge a law and then go on protest. “Either come to court or to the road…Once matter is sub-judice, how will protest go on same issue?”, asked the court.
Chowdhary sought to contend that the right to protest and right to approach the court are not mutually exclusive.
The outfit had also filed a plea before Rajasthan High Court challenging the laws. The court said it will transfer the HC matter to itself. Venugopal said a large number of petitions have been filed and added the protests cannot go on for ever. He also referred to the violence in Lakhimpur which left eight people dead on Sunday. “An unfortunate incident happened yesterday at Lakhimpur,” said the AG, adding such incidents destroy public peace.
“Exactly. When such events happen, no one takes responsibility! There is damage to property,” remarked Justice Khanwilkar.
SG Mehta too backed the AG and said “once matter is before the highest constitutional court, no one should be on roads…”
Another SC bench on Monday issued notice to 43 farmer organisations/representatives, including Rakesh Tikait and Yogendra Yadav, on a plea by a Noida resident highlighting the traffic problems on account of the blockade of highways by the protesters.
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