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Farmers during their ongoing agitation over the farm reform laws, at Singhu border in New Delhi, Monday. (PTI)
Farmers during their ongoing agitation over the farm reform laws, at Singhu border in New Delhi, Monday. (PTI)

Farmers, govt dig in; SC may stay the laws

  • Supreme Court proposes to set up a committee to review the laws

The Supreme Court on Monday said it may pass an interim order halting the implementation of three controversial farm laws to break the impasse between farmers and the government and expressed strong disappointment with the way the Centre has handled the protests.

“You tell us if you can put the laws on hold, otherwise we will do it," Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde told attorney general K.K. Venugopal, the government’s counsel. The court will pronounce its order on Tuesday. The court also proposed to set up a committee to review the laws.

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The Supreme Court is seeking to end the deadlock that has seen thousands of farmers camping in the bitter cold on the outskirts of the national capital, seeking a repeal of the laws, which they fear will lead to large corporates taking over their farms and a gradual withdrawal of the minimum support price for crops.

So far, talks with the government have ended in a stalemate, with the government refusing to withdraw the laws, which it claims will modernize India’s agriculture and boost incomes.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Bobde was hearing a batch of pleas challenging the constitutional validity of the three farm laws as well as other issues related to the ongoing protests. As many as 70 farmers, mostly old men, have died due to the severe winter and from road accidents.

“There is some sense of responsibility in showing that you will not implement the laws...then we can form a committee to look into this. Why will you insist on continuing the law anyhow?" Bodbe said. The apex court said it cannot stop the protests but will ask farmers if the location of the protest can be shifted.

Samyukta Kisan Morcha, the coalition of farmer groups leading the agitation, thanked the apex court for its understanding of the farmers’ problem but said unions are “unanimous in their decision that laws must be repealed forthwith".

Welcoming suggestions of the Supreme Court to stay implementation of the laws, the Morcha further said they “are collectively and individually not willing to participate in any proceedings before a committee that may be appointed by the honourable Supreme Court".

Attorney general Venugopal told the court that the decision to stay the legislation will be drastic, and argued that the laws cannot be stayed unless they are found to be enacted without legislative competence, violating fundamental rights or any other provisions of the Indian constitution.

During a hearing that lasted over two hours, the court said protests should not be stifled, but efforts should be made to persuade children, women and old people to return home to safeguard health and safety.

The court said it has to pass some order so that the situation can be dealt with more calmly. The attorney general asked the court whether farmers will continue to seek repeal of the laws before the panel. He added that if they don’t agree to a clause-by-clause discussion of the Act, the panel is doomed to fail. In response, the Chief Justice said the lawyers appearing for farmers and the unions must talk to them about the purpose of the committee and how it is in the public interest.

On Monday, the Centre filed a preliminary affidavit in SC stating these laws were not made in hurry but were the result of two decades of deliberations. It claimed the farmers were happy as they were now being given an additional option. It also said the government has done its best to engage with farmers but their unions were not coming for talks with an open mind.

Since October, farm unions have held eight rounds of negotiations with the government. After rejecting the offer of amendments, farm unions have stuck to their demand that the laws be repealed and another one making minimum support price purchases a legal entitlement be enacted. The next meeting is scheduled for 15 January.

The Supreme Court on 12 October issued a notice to the Centre on a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the three contentious farm laws passed by Parliament in the monsoon session last year. According to the petitioners, the farm laws pertaining to market reforms in agriculture are against constitutional provisions. Agriculture and agricultural marketing are state subjects and do not come under the Centre’s purview, the petitioners said.

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