SC stays farm laws but forms expert panel to ease negotiations; farmers say no talks, only repeal

The farmers have not only categorically refused to engage with the said 'expert panel', which includes two domain experts and two farmer leaders, but have also asserted that their tractor march on Republic Day will be held as per schedule

FP Staff January 12, 2021 21:14:59 IST
SC stays farm laws but forms expert panel to ease negotiations; farmers say no talks, only repeal

A day ahead of the resumption of talks, the farmers had to face heavy and continuous rainfall on Sunday morning in Delhi. AP

The Supreme Court Tuesday stayed the implementation of new farm laws till further orders saying it may encourage the protesting farmers to come to the negotiating table in good faith, and constituted a four-member committee to listen to their grievances and make recommendations to resolve the issue.

The top court, noting that negotiations between the farmers' unions and the government have not yielded any result so far, said the constitution of a committee of experts in the field of agriculture to negotiate may create a congenial atmosphere and improve the trust and confidence of farmers.

Protesting farmer, however, made it clear that they will not call off their agitation until the three farm laws are repealed, while raising doubts over the neutrality of the four-member panel set up by the Supreme Court to resolve the deadlock over the contentious legislations.

The farmers have not only categorically refused to engage with the said 'expert panel', which includes two domain experts and two farmer leaders, but have also asserted that their tractor march on Republic Day will be held as per schedule. They also claimed that they already knew the government will install such a mechanism so that it can escape its responsibility.

Here are the day's key developments on the front.

Highlights from the SC order

Farmers welcomed Supreme Court decision to stay the three contentious laws until further notice. But the court's decision to set up a four-member committee to talk to farmers and submit a report before it was widely unpopular among the stakeholders. The protesting unions had conveyed their displeasure even ahead of the hearing, as they added later that they were going to boycott the panel.

SC stays farm laws but forms expert panel to ease negotiations farmers say no talks only repeal

This came even as the court had mandated that the committee should hold its first sitting within 10 days in Delhi and submit a final report within two months from first sitting.

Furthermore, the court has also tried to allay fears regarding erasure of the Minimum Support Price mechanism by stating that MSP system was in existence before the enactment of new farm laws and it should be maintained until further orders. The court also provisioned that no farmer should lose his or her title as a result of the clauses of the new laws.

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

Farmers raise concern over objectivity of expert committee

Top farmer unions and leaders who have been associated with the movement since the start immediately distanced themselves from the committee, as soon as it was announced in court. Reports said that senior lawyers Dushyant Dave, HS Phoolka and Colin Gonsalves representing different farmers associations had remained absent from court, perhaps in anticipation of such a move. According to The Indian Express, advocate ML Sharma, who represents some of the unions, told the bench that some farmers had told him that they were not willing to go before the committee.

The bench said members of the bar must show "some loyalty" to the judicial process.

"You cannot reject the process if it does not suit you. You will have to cooperate with us and accordingly speak to the client. You cannot tell us negative without telling something positive to your clients," the report quoted the bench as saying.

However, agitating farmer unions have said they want a complete repeal of the laws and they do not want to appear before any committee.

"It is clear that the court is being misguided by various forces even in its constitution of a committee. These are people who are known for their support to the three Acts and have actively advocated for the same," a statement issued by All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) said.

Most leaders including Rakesh Tikait, Balweer Singh Rajewal, Darshan Pal and Yogendra Yadav said the members of the committee have already expressed their views in the past favouring the new laws "so the question arises in our minds that how justice will be done to farmers by their hands".

Pal, in a presser claimed, that the farmers' joint body leading the agitation had already foreseen the outcome of Tuesday's hearing as they knew about the government's intention to shirk off responsibility.

"We had issued a press note last night stating that we won't accept any committee formed by Supreme Court for mediation. We were confident that Centre will get a committee formed through Supreme Court to take the burden off their shoulders," Krantikari Kisan Union chief Pal said.

The Supreme Court had, however, stated that the committee was not a mediation panel but an expert group, pointing out that a knowledgeable person has to tell the court what is the complaint on the ground.

The four members  -- Bhupinder Singh Mann of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, Anil Ghanwat of Shetkari Sanghatana, Dr Pramod Kumar Joshi and agricultural economist Ashok Gulati -- have expressed opinions, which the farmers' deem pro-government in the current scenario. Firstpost also found that at least three of the four panelists have been vocal supporters of the government's new farm laws, while one member headed an organisation which demanded that the three laws be implemented, but with some amendments

Read the detailed profiles of all members of the panel here

Khalistani supporters have infiltrated farmers' protest: Centre to SC

Another key point of discussion in court today was the alleged presence of separatist elements in farmers' agitation. Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, told the apex court that Khalistan supporters have infiltrated the protest and he will file an affidavit along with the necessary inputs of the intelligence bureau (IB).

A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian told the AG that if there is infiltration by a banned organisation, then the government has to confirm it and asked him to file an affidavit by Wednesday.

The matter had come up after senior advocate PS Narasimha, appearing for intervenor 'Indian Kisan Union' supporting the new farm laws, alleged that some banned organisations have been fuelling the protests of farmers.

These kinds of protests can be "dangerous" he said, adding that groups like "Sikhs for Justice" are involved in these agitations. The bench told Venugopal that somebody has made an allegation here on record that there are some banned organisations which are helping the protest. "Will you confirm this or deny?" the bench asked the AG.

The Attorney General said, "We have said that Khalistanis' have infiltrated the farmers' protest. We can file an affidavit by tomorrow, along with the report of the intelligence bureau".

Trouble for BJP in Haryana?

The Bharatiya Janata Party may be facing some heat from ally Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) in Haryana as several MLAs of the party openly appealed to the Centre to repeal the laws, or the alliance government will face the repercussions. This also came just hours before a scheduled meeting between JJP chief Dushyant Chautala and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

"The Centre should rollback these laws as farmers of Haryana, Punjab and the country are up in arms against the legislations," JJP MLA Jogi Ram Sihag told PTI.
"We will request Dushyant ji to convey our feelings to Amit Shah ji," he said. Before meeting Shah, Chautala will hold a meeting with all his party's MLAs at a farm house in New Delhi.

The meeting being organised by Chautala is being seen as an attempt to keep his flock of MLAs in the alliance as the farmers' agitation dominates the political narrative in Haryana.

Last week Khattar could not address a farmers' rally in his Karnal constituency after farmers ransacked the venue. In a similar incident a few weeks back, protesting farmers dug up a helipad in Chautala's constituency, Hisar.

Moreover, Independent MLA Somveer Sangwan has already withdrawn support from the government.

Thousands of farmers, mostly from Haryana and Punjab, have been protesting at several border points of Delhi since November 28 last year, demanding a repeal of the three laws and a legal guarantee on the minimum support price for their crops.

Farmers are protesting against the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

The three farm laws, enacted in September last year, have been projected by the government as major reforms in the agriculture sector that will remove middlemen and allow farmers to sell anywhere in the country.

With inputs from PTI

 

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