EVEN AS the Government postponed the tenth round of talks with protesting farmers by a day, the Supreme Court observed Monday that its intervention on the new farm laws has been “misunderstood”, and that the question of who should be allowed into Delhi to hold protests is a law and order issue that has to be handled by the police and not the court.
As the Centre’s plea, seeking an injunction against the proposed tractor rally by farmers in Delhi on Republic Day, came up before the bench, Chief Justice of India S A Bobde remarked: “The question of entry into Delhi is a law and order situation that is to be determined by the police.”
Later in the day, the Government said that the latest round of talks, which was scheduled to be held Tuesday, will now be held Wednesday. In a letter sent to representatives of 40 farm unions, Agriculture Secretary Sanjay Agarwal did not cite any specific reason.
“The meeting between Central Government’s ministerial committee and the agitating farmer unions was scheduled to be on January 19. Due to inevitable reasons, it has become necessary to postpone this meeting. Now this meeting will be held on January 20,” the letter said.
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Earlier, the Supreme Court adjourned its hearing till January 20 when it will also consider a plea seeking the reconstitution of the four-member committee set up by it on the farm laws after one of the members, Bhupinder Singh Mann, president of BKU (Mann) and chairman of All India Kisan Coordination Committee, recused himself.
In Gwalior, meanwhile, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told reporters that the deadlock in talks continues but a solution would be found during the talks if the farmers are willing to discuss “options”. The protesters have maintained that they want the three laws to be repealed.
In the Supreme Court, Attorney General K K Venugopal described the proposed tractor rally by the protesters as an “extraordinary situation” and said the entry of so many people would be illegal. However, the bench, also comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and Vineet Saran, asked: “Does Union of India need the Supreme Court to tell what powers it has under the Police Act?” It said the Government is under liberty to invoke its powers under the law.
The CJI pointed out that the court had said earlier that who and how many should not be allowed are matters of law and order to be dealt with by the police. “We are not the first authority,” he said.
The Attorney General urged the court to pass an order to this effect since it has taken up the issue. The CJI said: “But why do you want us to tell what powers you have…We have not taken up the entire issue. The intervention of the court has been misunderstood.”
The court adjourned the hearing to Wednesday as the composition of the bench was different — the matter was earlier heard by a bench of CJI Bobde, and Justices A S Bopanna and R Balasubramanian.
Last week, the deadlock in talks — over the demand for repeal of the three central laws and legal guarantee for MSP — made the apex court, hearing petitions relating to the protests, put on hold the implementation of the laws until further orders.
It then named the four-member committee to suggest — in two months — what changes, if any, were needed after hearing all sides. Farmer unions spearheading the protests on the outskirts of Delhi rejected the committee, saying its members were in favour of the newly enacted laws.
Tomar, meanwhile, said the farmers should be willing to discuss provisions of the laws.
“The Government is discussing, and it wants to discuss with an open mind the amendments to those provisions on which farmers have objections. But the unions are not discussing the provisions. Therefore, the deadlock continues. The meeting will again take place tomorrow, and I hope that if farmers discuss options tomorrow then a solution will be found,” he said.
Asked whether the farm leaders were seeking a “yes or no” from the Government on their demand for a repeal, Tomar said, “I think the discussions are going on in a cordial atmosphere right now. In the discussion that will take place tomorrow, maybe those people will consider the options. A way will be found through discussion.”
Tomar also expressed hope that farmers will reconsider their decision to hold the tractor rally on January 26.
“I want to request to all farmer unions that January 26 is our Republic Day, a national festival, and the country has got freedom after a big sacrifice. Therefore, any move by the farmers should not affect the dignity of Republic Day. It is also the responsibility of the farmers and I hope that they will reconsider (the tractor rally),” Tomar said.
Along with his Cabinet colleagues, Food Minister Piyush Goyal and MoS for Commerce and Industry Som Prakash, Tomar is leading the Government in talks with the farm unions.
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