New Delhi: As protests by lakhs of farmers entered the 48th day, the Supreme Court on Tuesday, January 12, stayed the implementation of the three controversial farm laws till “further orders” and proposed the setting up of a committee to resolve the impasse between the government and farmer unions. The full order of the court will be released later in the day.
“We are going to suspend the implementation of the three farm laws until further orders. We will also constitute a committee,” the apex court was quoted as saying by LiveLaw.
The Samyukt Kisan Morcha, representing 40 farmer unions that are spearheading the farmers’ movement, has called a meeting later in the day to decide the next course of action.
"We welcome the court's order to stay the implementation of the farm laws, but we want a complete repeal of these laws," Abhimanyu Kohar, a senior leader of the Morcha, told PTI.
Prem Singh Bhangu, president of All India Kisan Federation, told NewsClick that the protesting unions won't talk to any mediation panel as it is aimed at "delaying" the process.
"The reason behind refusing to talk to the SC-appointed mediation panel is very simple. It will delay and weaken our protest. ... We have already experienced such mediation panels. They take up the issues and submit reports after months and years. Therefore, we don't want to get trapped. The matter is political, let the government resolve it," he said.
The court was hearing a batch of petitions against the farm laws as well as seeking the removal of farmers who have been camping on Delhi’s borders for close to 50 days now, demanding repeal of the three laws and legal guarantee for minimum support price (MSP).
The SC bench, headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde that includes justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, also proposed the names of agriculture economists Ashok Gulati and Pramod Joshi, Bharatiya Kisan Union president Bhupinder Singh Mann and Shetkari Sangathana chief Anil Ghanwat as members of the committee.
“The committee will be part of the judicial proceeding,” the court said.
The three laws -- Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance & Farm Services Act 2020, Farmers Produce Trade & Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Act & Amendment to Essential Commodities Act – are being opposed by lakhs of farmers across the country, who see these as a threat to their existence as well as the country’s food security by paving the way for corporatisation of agriculture. They are also peeved with the Narendra Modi government for hastily pushing through the laws in Parliament without consulting farmers groups.
"They will pave the way for cartelization and commercialization of agriculture produced and if allowed to stand will completely ruin our country as the corporates can, with one stroke, export our agriculture produce without any regulation," said one of the petitioners, according to Bar & Bench.
Some petitions also contended that the laws passed are "unconstitutional" and "anti-farmer," as it would dismantle the Agriculture Produce Market Committee system intended to ensure fair prices for farm products, the report added.
The SC proposal for a committee comes in the backdrop of farmer unions opposing being part of any committee, and firm on demanding a “yes” or “no” from the government on the repeal of the three laws. So far, nine rounds of talks with the government have been held and have remained inconclusive.
However, the apex court on Tuesday said “no power” could prevent it from setting up a committee.
Reacting to the farmers’ stance, CJI Bobde said: “We are looking to solve the problem. If you want to agitate indefinitely, you can. Every person who is genuinely interested in solving the problem is expected to go before the Committee. The Committee will not punish you or pass any orders. It will submit a report to us. We are going to take the opinion of the organisations. We are forming the Committee so that we have a clearer picture.”
The bench urged the farmers' unions to cooperate and go before the committee to be appointed by it to resolve the dispute.
"We are concerned about protecting the lives and property of citizens of India and we want to solve the problem," said the bench, which conducted the proceedings through video conferencing.
On Monday, the apex court had pulled up the Centre for its handling of the farmers protest against the new farm laws saying it is “extremely disappointed” with the way negotiations between them were going on.
In a statement on Monday night, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella organisation of hundreds of farmer groups, said that “all the farmers organisations who are spearheading the fight against the farm laws are unanimous in their decision that laws must be repealed forthwith.”
“While all organisations welcome the suggestions of the Hon'ble Supreme Court to stay the implementation of the farm laws, they are collectively and individually not willing to participate in any proceedings before a committee that may be appointed by the Hon'ble Supreme Court,” the release added.
The Morcha, while expressing gratitude to the Supreme Court, said it regretted “our inability to accede their suggestions. Since our struggle is for the welfare of hundreds of millions of farmers across the country, and it is in larger public interest, while govt falsely propagates that agitation is confined only to farmers of Punjab, thousands of farmers from Haryana, UP, Utrakhand, Rajasthan, MP, Maharashtra and some other states are assembled on the borders of Delhi while thousands more are protesting at various places of different states at this very moment.”
The national working group of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, an umbrella body of 250 farmers’ organisations from across the country, has also issued a statement welcoming the SC’s order which was “not inclined to pass any orders on the ongoing protests with regard to vacating farmers from the Delhi borders”.
However, the AIKSCC stated that the farmers demand is the complete withdrawal of the three laws and that the SC stay on implementation can only be an interim measure. It has also reiterated that the farmers are not willing to participate in any court-ordered committee process – which was further validated by the committee’s constitution. The AIKSCC has highlighted that those included in the court-appointed committee are the same people who have been known for their open support to the three Acts.
Highlighting the composition of the committee, farmer leader Surjit Singh Phool said, "All four members of the committee have declared positions in support of the agricultural laws. Ashok Gulati and PK Joshi have been a champion of neo-liberal economists, who have long argued for free market reforms in agricultural marketing. Anil Ghanawat heads the Shard Joshi-faction of the Shetkari Sanghatana, which has always stood for free trade and private corporate-led markets in agriculture. Bhupinder Singh Mann is the president of a faction of the BKU, which has again supported the laws (though it has asked for some minor amendments)."
"The court itself has given a good reason to the protesting farmers to boycott this committee," he added.
The AIKSCC statement also alleged that the government of India is hiding the full impact of the three farm laws from people and courts, which seek to hand over agricultural processing and markets to corporate control. Therefore, the farmers’ body has decided to go ahead with the Kisan Parade on Republic Day at Delhi and across the country. It added that the farmers' struggle on their key demands will continue, as per the earlier announcement, on January 13, 18 and 23.
Rakesh Tikait of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), said:
"We thank the SC for showing concern. But the protest will continue till the government repeals the three laws and brings a law to guarantee MSP (minimum support price). The agitation will go on as per its plans. We will organise 'Kisan Parade' (farmers' parade) in Delhi. We will not disturb the public parade to be held at Rajpath."
On January 23, he said, the BKU will gherao the Raj Bhawan (governor's house) at Lucknow in UP.
With regard to formation of the four-member committee appointed by the SC, he said all the members of the panel have either a advocated open market or supported the three legislations.
"In fact, a panel headed by Ashok Gulati had urged the government to bring the laws. Therefore, we are disappointed with the move," he added.
Meanwhile, farmer leaders of the Punjab farmers’ unions have announced a press conference at 5:30 PM at Singhu Border today over the court order.