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Protesting farmers shout slogans near police barricades as they continue to protest along a blocked highway against the central government's recent agricultural reforms, at the Gazipur Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border, in Ghaziabad on Tuesday. (AFP)
Protesting farmers shout slogans near police barricades as they continue to protest along a blocked highway against the central government's recent agricultural reforms, at the Gazipur Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border, in Ghaziabad on Tuesday. (AFP)

Farmers refuse to yield as SC stays laws, forms panel

  • Court says suspending farm laws is aimed at encouraging farmers to come to the negotiating table

The Supreme Court on Tuesday halted until further orders the implementation of three farm laws that aimed to make agriculture more market-oriented, dealing a blow to the government.

The court also constituted a four-member committee to listen to farmers’ grievances and the government’s views on the contentious laws but protesting farmers groups rejected the mediation.

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Tuesday’s order is an attempt at breaking the deadlock between protesting farmers seeking scrapping of the laws and the Narendra Modi administration, which has refused to back down. Eight round of talks between the government and farmer unions have failed to resolve the impasse.

Farmer unions said that they will continue their protest at Delhi’s borders till the laws are repealed and declined to appear before the court-appointed committee.

Farmers fear that the new laws will allow corporates to take over their land and the government to gradually withdraw the minimum support price programme for crops, which partially insulates them from the vagaries of the market .

A three-judge bench, which heard the pleas challenging the constitutional validity of the three farm laws, said that the minimum support price system will continue and that farmers won’t lose their land. The bench was headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) S.A. Bobde.

“No farmer shall be dispossessed or deprived of his title as a result of any action taken under the farm laws," the court said in its order.

The four-member committee consists of farmer leaders Bhupinder Singh Mann and Anil Ghanwat; and agriculture experts Ashok Gulati and Pramod Joshi. The farmer representatives on the panel are, however, not part of the protests and all four have publicly expressed their support for the new laws.

The court said that representatives of all the farmers’ bodies, whether they are holding protests or not and whether they support or oppose the laws, shall participate in the deliberations of the committee.

It told the committee to hold its first sitting by 22 January and submit its report to the court within two months from the date of its first sitting.

The protesters were categorical.

“All members of the committee are in support of the laws, and we cannot expect to get justice from them," said Balbir Rajewal, a farmer leader from Punjab and a member of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, which is leading the agitation.

Rajewal said farmer unions are in principle against appearing before the committee. “Our fight is with the government to repeal the laws. We are not here to argue before a committee," he said.

On the protests, the court said halting the “implementation of all the three farm laws for the present may assuage the hurt feelings of the farmers and encourage them to come to the negotiating table with confidence and good faith".

The court also said that this “extraordinary order of stay" should be perceived as an achievement by protestors —said to number over 200,000—and urged them to return to their villages.

The case will be heard again after eight weeks.

The court issued notice on a Delhi Police plea seeking to stop a proposed tractor rally by protesting farmers on 26 January. Farmers organizations reiterated on Tuesday that their tractor march on Republic Day will be peaceful. The next date of hearing for this application is 18 January.

Since 27 November, hundreds of thousands of farmers have been camping on national highways bordering Delhi, seeking a repeal of laws. Crowds have been swelling at Tikri, Singhu, Ghazipur, Palwal and Shahjahanpur—on Delhi’s border with Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Since the protests at Delhi’s doorstep began, more than 70 protestors have died because of the severe cold, road accidents and by suicide.

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