Rajat Sharma

Why Supreme Court lashed out at farmer leaders for obstructing highways

The farmers’ body had appealed to the apex court to allow protests at Jantar Mantar near Parliament. The court then posted the petition for hearing on October 8, but asked the petitioner to file an affidavit clarifying whether it is participating in the ongoing farmers’ protest.

AKB The Supreme Court on Friday clearly told agitating farmers that once they have come to the court for justice, they “cannot go on protesting on the streets”. The division bench of Justice A N Khanwilkar and Justice C T Ravikumar told the counsel for Kisan Mahapanchayat: “You have strangulated the entire city by blocking the highways at crucial entry points from various states. Now you want to come inside the city to protest…Citizens have a right to move freely. Have you thought about their rights getting violated because of road blockade? Are the residents around the protest sites happy with the farmers blocking the highways? Their business has stopped.”

The court also said: ”You block train movement. You block highways and then come and say the protests are peaceful….Are you protesting against the judicial system?.. If you want to continue with your protests, then don’t come to court.”

The farmers’ body had appealed to the apex court to allow protests at Jantar Mantar near Parliament. The court then posted the petition for hearing on October 8, but asked the petitioner to file an affidavit clarifying whether it is participating in the ongoing farmers’ protest.

For me, the Supreme Court has expressed the voice of the common man. It has expressed the views of the people who have been suffering because of blockade of entry points.

For more than ten months, supporters of Samyukta Kisan Morcha have been staging protests at Delhi’s border entry points. Bharatiya Kisan Union chief Rakesh Tikait and his supporters have blocked the Ghazipur border, farmers supporting Gurnam Singh Charuni, Joginder Singh Ugrahan, Darshan Pal, and Balbir Singh Rajewal have blocked Singhu and Tikri border points.

They have set up tents, running langars (community kitchens) and the common man who has to enter or exit the border points has been facing ordeals for nearly a year. Earlier, it took hardly ten minutes and now it takes more than 3 hours to cross the border points by taking diversion routes. Patients are unable to reach hospitals in time, farmers are unable to supply grains, fruits and vegetables, those supplying daily milk to Delhi are facing huge losses, but the farmer leaders are saying they are helpless. If the farmers are suffering, then the common man should also suffer, their leaders say.

It was in this backdrop that the apex court on Friday took a stern stand. I have been saying the same things for the last several months over farm protests, and the apex court has conveyed similar feelings.

The court was furious over the words “peaceful protests”. It pointed to the obstruction of army convoy near Jalandhar on September 26 during Bharat Bandh, about which I had shown visuals in my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’. The apex court said, farmer leaders must have a balanced approach. They have the right to protest, but they cannot obstruct normal life, damage public property or attack security personnel. When India TV reporter sought Rakesh Tikait’s reaction, he coolly claimed that farmers have not obstructed highways, it was the police which have put obstructions.

One simple observation: if farmers squat on highways, put up tents, raise structures and serve ‘langars’, traffic on busy roads will have to stop and it has to be diverted.

The apex court had set up a 3-member committee several months ago to hear the farmers’ views on new farm bills, but the agitating farmer outfits refused to go before the committee. When a farmer leader was asked on Friday, whose words would they listen to, if they do not want to listen to the government or the Supreme Court, his reply was: ‘We will listen to the people, because people are sovereign in a democracy.”

These leaders must understand that it is the people which has elected members to the Parliament, and these MPs have passed the farm bills, and that it is Parliament which has elected Narendra Modi as Prime Minister. For umpteen number of times, Modi has assured farmers that the new laws have been made for their benefit.

Farmer leaders should now listen to the popularly elected government, and return to the discussion table for fresh rounds of talks, or they should follow Supreme Court’s advice. Institutions and traditions that have been nurtured in a democracy must be adhered to and the farmer leaders must find a way out of the impasse. But looking at the mood of some belligerent Samyukta Kisan Morcha leaders, there appears to be no silver lining on the horizon.

Already, supporters of Charuni faction have started staging protests in Ambala, Jhajjhar of Haryana demanding early procurement of paddy. Charuni has threatened that his supporters would gherao ministers and MLAs belonging to BJP and its ally in Haryana. In Punjab, Congress and Akali Dal have joined the chorus.

The Centre had delayed paddy procurement this year because of unseasonal monsoon rains during September in north India. If procurement starts now, the farmers will be the big losers, because paddy that has moisture content will fetch 10 to 20 per cent price less than the MSP fixed at Rs 1960 per quintal for A Grade paddy. The Centre expects rains to cease by October 5, and in bright sunshine, paddy procurement can start from October 11. Farmers can then get better rates with lesser moisture content. But neither farmer leaders nor Akali leaders are telling this plain fact to farmers. Politicians want to stir the pot to gain advantage in view of coming assembly elections in Punjab. They are trying to make farmers as pawns in their game of political chess.

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