Expressing disappointment over the negotiations between the government and protesting farmers over the new farm laws, the Supreme Court Monday said it proposed to stay the implementation of the laws to facilitate the atmosphere for talks before a committee set up by it.
The court’s sharp remarks came during a hearing on petitions challenging the farm laws and the farmer agitation at the Delhi borders.
A bench of Chief Justice of India S A Bobde and Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian was critical of the government’s handling of the protests. “We do not think Centre is handling the issue correctly. We have to take some action today. We don’t think you are being effective….We propose to form a committee and if government does not then we will stay the implementation of the farm acts…We are doing this because you have failed to solve the problem…Union of India has to take the responsibility.”
“The laws has resulted into a strike and now you have to solve the strike….We are proposing to pass this order to facilitate resolution of this problem by a committee chosen by us…We will make the atmosphere comfortable and conducive for talks. Till then the farm laws can be put on hold. Who is going to be responsible for blood shed? We need to uphold Article 21 as a constitutional court. What if some conflagration takes place?”, asked the CJI. The bench, further, said it may pass orders on Monday or Tuesday.
The AG urged the court not to be in a hurry to pass keep the orders for Tuesday. But the bench shot back. “Why not? We have given you a very long rope. Don’t lecture us on patience. We will decide when to pass the order. We might pass in part today and in part tomorrow”.
Earlier during the hearing, Attorney General K K Venugopal opposed the court’s suggestion to stay the laws and said it will be “drastic”. “None of the petitions point to any provision of three farm acts stating that it is unconstitutional”, the AG said adding “laws cannot be stayed. This is drastic”. “We are not declaring it unconstitutional”, responded the CJI.
The AG said that the farmers associations should come and tell it to the Committee and urged the court not to stay it.
Venugopal pointed out that a law cannot be stayed by the courts unless its beyond the competence of the legislature or violative of fundamental rights of against any constitutional provision. He pointed out that none of the petitioners have argued on this and added that on the contrary many are supporting.
The AG said that farmers from South India have not protested because they realise that the laws are to their advantage, “That is why we are asking them to understand the law”, he said adding the Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar also wanted to discuss with farmers but some disrupted it and even media persons were assaulted.
The CJI said that it should not be understood that the court is protecting any law breaker. Those who break the law will face the consequences. “We propose to pass this order to prevent loss of life and property”.
With the AG opposing staying the law, the CJI wondered if the court can stay the implementation of the law without staying the law.
The AG said it was one and the same. “We can always stay a legitimate executive action under a law”, added the CJI.
The AG pointed out that thousands of farmers have already entered into contracts with traders under the new laws and staying the laws would cost these farmers heavily. “If implementation is stayed then what cannot be done directly will be done indirectly”, remarked Venugopal.
Senior Advocate Harish Salve said there must be an assurance that farmers will not turn their back even if the laws are put on hold.
“We are not having a last hearing. They will appear before the committee”, the court said adding Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave had said so.
Intervening, Dave said there are 400 organisations and he would need to seek instructions on appearing before the committee.
The CJI sought to know why the farmers associations which appeared before the government cannot appear before the committee.
Salve added that though the court does not generally stay a law and cautioned that it should however not be that the government is pushed to the back foot and the protest continues.
Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves appearing for some of the farmer’s unions said he Dave, Advocate Prashant Bhushan and Senior Advocate H S Phoolka were part of a committee constituted by the farmers. “All of us will consult unions and take a stand on this”.
The CJI observed that the court’s key concern was who will take responsibility for loss of life and property if anything untoward happens.
Venugopal sought to know whether the farmers unions will only continue to demand complete withdrawal of the farm acts before the committee and added that the talks may not yield any result if that happens. “They need to give suggestion clause by clause if its not in their interest”.
The SC said it trusts trust lawyers like Dave, Phoolka, Gonsalves and Bhushan to convey the purpose of having a committee to the farmers. “The committee will tell us if the laws are in public interest”.
Talks between the Centre and farmer unions on the new agriculture laws failed to make any headway even after the eighth round of talks. The Centre and the farmer leaders are scheduled to hold their next meeting on January 15.
During the last hearing, the top court, which had observed that there is no improvement on the ground regarding farmers’ protests, was told by the Centre that “healthy discussions” were going on between the government and the unions over all the issues and there was a good chance that both sides may come to a conclusion in the near future.