Rajat Sharma

Why Supreme Court’s steps on farm laws were not welcomed?

In a democracy, the government functions on the basis of laws and Constitution, and if people start claiming that the government will have to bow to their demands, come what may, then it is a sure recipe for anarchy. Any group can squat on highways, block road movements and insist that its demands are met.

AKB30 The Supreme Court on Tuesday took two major steps for breaking the present impasse over farmers’ protests: One, it stayed the implementation of the three new farm laws, and two, it set up a committee of four experts to examine the laws to see which provisions need to be amended and submit its report within two months.
This led to two consequences. One, the Centre is unhappy over the Supreme Court suspending the implementation of farm laws passed by Parliament, and two, the farmers are angry because the apex court set up the committee without consulting them.
On one hand, supporters of the government are of the view that the apex court has no right to stay legislations passed by Parliament, though in the national interest, the Centre has agreed to accept the Supreme Court’s order. On the other hand, farmer leaders have said they will not appear before the committee, because they allege that the experts in the committee are supporters of the new farm laws. The farmer leaders are raising questions on who suggested the names of these four experts for the committee and on whose appeal was this step taken.

The farmer leaders have made it clear that their agitation will continue till the three farm laws are not repealed. The farmer leaders who were till yesterday praising the Supreme Court, are now alleging that the apex court is helping out the government. The same leaders who were doubting the intentions of the government, are now casting doubts on the intentions of the Supreme Court.

Now that the farmers are unwilling to listen both to the elected government and the Supreme Court, the question arises: whom will they listen to in a democracy?

In a democracy, the government functions on the basis of laws and Constitution, and if people start claiming that the government will have to bow to their demands, come what may, then it is a sure recipe for anarchy. Any group can squat on highways, block road movements and insist that its demands are met.

Does not Parliament, elected by the will of the people, has the right to enact laws? Shouldn’t the government elected by the people be given the powers to implement laws? Will all decisions be allowed to be taken on the streets? Will people not even listen to the appeals of the Supreme Court?

It is sad to note that the farmers are unwilling to listen to either the executive, the legislature or the judiciary. On Tuesday, farmer leaders clearly alleged that the apex court was helping the government by picking “pro-government” experts for the committee.

Let us first check the credentials of the four experts selected by the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by the Chief Justice of India.

The chairman of the committee is Ashok Gulati, an agriculture economist who was professor at ICRIER (Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations) and who has been on the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council from 1991 to 2001. Dr Pramod Kumar Joshi is a former director of International Food Policy Research Institute. The other two are farmers’ representatives, Bhupinder Singh Mann, former Rajya Sabha MP and president of Bharatiya Kisan Union and Anil Ghanwat of Shivkeri Sanghatana, which has a following among lakhs of farmers in Maharashtra. During the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Bhupinder Singh Mann had asked his BKU supporters to vote in support of Congress because he had found the Congress’ manifesto for farmers better than that of the BJP. Anil Ghanwat was never aligned to any political party, nor was Ashok Gulati.

During the initial rounds of talks between the Centre and farmer leaders, the government had proposed to set up a committee of farm experts, but the farmer leaders rejected the offer. Now they have rejected the committee set up by the Supreme Court saying all the members have already supported the new farm laws. The question arises: Why the farmer leaders agreed for talks with the Centre in the first stage, if their core demand was repeal of the three laws?

Even though the government is not happy with the Supreme Court’s step to stay the implementation of the farm laws, it has agreed to the formation of the committee. The government has opined that it was improper on part of the apex court to put legislations passed by Parliament on hold. Making laws is in the domain of legislature, and it is the executive that implements them. The Constitution clearly demarcates the boundaries between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.

The Supreme Court normally steps in only when the Constitution is subverted or weakened by enacting laws or when fundamental rights are curtailed. In the present case, there seems to be no such ground for the Supreme Court to put the new agricultural laws on hold. The crisis has been artificially created by farmers’ organizations.

I was surprised to find the apex court observing that the Centre did not handle the farmers’ agitation properly. Farmers are sitting on dharna for the last 45 days and they have blocked movement of vehicles on highways. The government did not use force to quell the protesters and police exercised utmost restraint.

When rumours were circulated that the police may remove the protesters during a midnight swoop, senior police officials went to the farmers and quashed such rumours as baseless. Three union ministers held several rounds of talks with the farmer leaders. Hence it was not correct for the apex court to remark that the Centre did not handle the agitation properly.

The Centre is still ready to amend provisions in the three farm laws, clause by clause, but the farmer leaders are insisting on nothing less than repeal. Their adamant attitude is reflected in a situation where even after the apex court stayed implementation of the farm laws, the farmer leaders are planning to take out a tractor parade on Republic Day.

BKU leader Rakesh Tikait has vowed to take out the tractor rally with national flag on January 26. Another farmer leader from Punjab has said that the agitation will continue even after Republic Day.

One thing is now crystal clear. The entire farmers’ agitation is based on mistrust and suspicions.

First, the farmer leaders said they were suspicious of the government’s intentions on the issue of continuing with agricultural ‘mandis’ and minimum support prices. On Tuesday, they expressed suspicions about the intent of Supreme Court by alleging that the apex court is helping the government. Obviously, there cannot be any treatment for people who have the habit of creating suspicions.

How can the fate of laws passed in Parliament be decided on the streets? How can a solution be explored if the protesters are unwilling to listen to either the government or the Supreme Court? It will be a wrong precedent if decisions are taken on the basis of road blockages and dharnas. Will the voice of the silent majority not be heard, if they do not come to the streets to voice their opinion?

There are a large number of farmers and their organizations who say they have benefited from the new farm laws. Even the Supreme Court did not hear them and observed that there was lack of consultation on part of the government. For the last 20 years, discussions have been going on for framing new farm laws. Several committees were set up, several experts gave their opinions, several farmer unions wanted these new farm laws.

Today we have the BKU leader Rakesh Tikait, who had welcomed the farm laws when they were enacted, but is now opposing the same laws with his supporters and has been sitting on dharna for the last 48 days. In such a situation, how can the apex court say that there was no consulation?

The situation has now come to such a pass that neither the supporters of new farm laws are happy with the Supreme Court’s order, nor are those who are opposing the laws. The impasse continues and the ultimate sufferers are the common people of India.

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