On Monday, the Supreme Court said that it intends to stay the adoption of the problematic new farm laws thus proposing to create an independent committee chaired by a former Chief Justice of India to “peacefully resolve” the stand-off between both the opposing farmers and the government .
A three-judge Bench headed by Indian Chief Justice Sharad A. Bobde emphasised its “disappointment” with the Centre’s handling of the agitation of farmers, including the series of failed talks, “up in rebellion” states, suicides among protesters, and the sight of elderly farmers, women and children struggling in the freezing cold in the pandemic as the Republic Day appears close.
We are disappointed
We don’t want any stray observations to be made against you. But in the way you deal with this case, we are disappointed. The states are up against you in revolt. For months, the whole thing has been going on. You’re saying that you’re negotiating, interacting. What to negotiate? What to talk about? And what’s going on? Attorney General K.K. Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, both appearing for the Centre, were questioned by Chief Justice Bobde.
“Chief Justice responded to when Mr. Venugopal challenged the “rush” of the court to pass the order of stay, the CJI said, “Mr Attorney, we are giving you a very long rope. Don’t give us such a patience lecture.” During the hearing, Chief Justice appealed to all including senior citizens, women and children at the protests to return home.
Have faith in Supreme Court
“Tell them that India’s Chief Justice wants them to go home. Whether or not you have faith in us, we are the Supreme Court of India, and Chief Justice Bobde has said that we will do our job.” The court questioned the “insistence” of the government on the implementation of the new agricultural laws.
“We don’t know whether you (the government) are part of the problem or the solution. Not a single petition is filed here arguing that the laws are advantageous. If the laws were put on hold, negotiations before the committee would be much better,” Chief Justice Bobde said.
The court, however, made it clear that it would not go into the question of the constitutionality of the laws at this point. Venugopal said the court would take a “drastic decision” if the central laws were to stay. He said that none of the farm representatives had shown a single clause of the laws during the talks, that was unconstitutional.
2,000 tractors to “join” Republic Day Parade
“I’m sorry to hear, Mr. Attorney, we may have reached a decision but you, the Union of India, have not taken responsibility for it. You haven’t been able to fix the issue. You were supposed to be able to resolve the strike, but you were not,” Chief Justice Bobde responded. Venugopal said the farmers will bring 2,000 farm machinery (tractors) to “join” the parade on Republic Day. However, senior advocate Dushyant Dave refuted the assertion.
“Mr. Venugopal, these farmers have army members, too. They’re not going to do any such thing… He said he really didn’t understand the government’s attitude,” Venugopal related to how the process where the Haryana Chief Minister was to come was recently destroyed by rioters.
We protect the right to peaceful protest
“We don’t say that we’re going to protect law-breakers. The work of the police is law and order. As Chief Justice Bobde said, we will protect the right to peaceful protest, like Gandhiji’s Satyagraha.” Dismissing claims that the country’s “majority” claimed that the farm laws were harmless, Chief Justice said the thoughts of the majority would not help resolve the strike of the farmers.
We ourselves do not claim to know how every problem can be resolved. We just strive to break the tension and make talks more friendly to the atmosphere. We are a court of the constitution… If this sabre-rattling goes on, who is going to be accountable? Said Chief Justice Bobde.
Everyone will be responsible
The CJI said that if any violence broke out, everyone would be liable, including the court. “Each one of us is responsible. The responsibility is on everyone, including that of the Supreme Court of India, that there’ll be no bloodshed. We don’t want any blood on our hands. There must be no violence. A stray incident can ignite brutality,” cautioned the parties, including the farmers and the government, by the court.
The CJI explained to the farmers that the order to keep on implementing the laws did not indicate that they had to call off their protests, pack up and go home. You (farmers) continue the protest even though we remain in line with the laws. We do not want any criticism that the court is suppressing protest,” Chief Justice Bobde asked.
The CJI, however, asked if once the committee’s talks were held, farmers would “move a little” from their current protest places to comfort people. Dave and three other lawyers representing the farmers’ unions – senior lawyers Colin Gonsalves, H.S. Phoolka and Prashant Bhushan – said they would have to speak to their clients first.
To head the proposed commission, the four lawyers suggested the name of former CJI R.M. Lodha. The government said that on Tuesday it will come back on this. The court said it was going to choose from a panel of names. Towards the end of the trial, in an apparent attempt at damage control, Mehta said that the court had made “harsh” remarks on the handling of the crisis by the government.