'Where is bias?': Supreme Court issues notice on plea for reconstitution of expert panel to resolve deadlock between farmers, govt

A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde said it had appointed experts in the panel as the judges are not experts on the subject

FP Staff January 20, 2021 15:17:33 IST
'Where is bias?': Supreme Court issues notice on plea for reconstitution of expert panel to resolve deadlock between farmers, govt

File image of the Supreme Court of India. Reuters

The Supreme Court on Wednesday expressed strong displeasure at the manner in which the farmers unions had cast "unnecessary aspersions on the Committee members" and said that the Supreme Court does not appreciate "branding people like this".

Meanwhile, central government has also withdrawn its petition seeking an injunction against the proposed tractor rally by farmers on the Republic Day after the apex court said it was police matter.

On the issue pertaining to the apex court-appointed committee, a bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde said it had appointed experts in the panel as the judges are not experts on the subject.

“Where is the question of bias in this? We have not given adjudicating powers to the committee. If you don't want to appear before the committee, we cannot compel you to do so. But casting aspersions on someone because he expressed his view is not done. You don't need to brand anybody like this,” PTI quoted the Bench, also comprising Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, as saying.

“Everyone should have an opinion. Even judges have opinion. This has become a cultural thing. Branding people which you do not want has become a norm,” the Bench said.

"They (Committee members) are the most brilliant people in agriculture today. You just malign them for some opinion expressed in past", CJI Bobde observed.

Controversy had erupted after the apex court appointed the four-member committee as some of the members had reportedly favoured the contentious farm laws, following which one of the members recused himself.

Soon after the top court announced the expert committee, the protesting farmers said they will not accept any such panel, and said that all the members are in favour of the new laws. An article in Mint quoted a statement from the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, a coalition of farm unions, as saying, "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."

The members of the court-appointed committee were — Bhupinder Singh Mann, National President of Bhartiya Kisan Union, All India Kisan Coordination Committee; Pramod Kumar Joshi, Director for South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute; Ashok Gulati, agricultural economist and former chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, and Anil Ghanwat, President of Shetkari Sanghatana.

Later, Mann had recused himself from the committee after the controversy.

The court's remarks on Wednesday were broadly on similar lines as those made on Tuesday as well. LiveLaw quoted CJI SA Bobde as saying on Tuesday, "Just because a person has expressed a view on the matter, that is not a disqualification to be a member of a Committee…Committee members are not judges. They can change their views."

Police should decide on tractor rally, says SC

During the hearing on Wednesday, the Centre withdrew its plea seeking an injunction against the proposed tractor rally on 26 January after the top court said "it is a police matter".

The police has the "authority" to deal with the issue pertaining to the proposed tractor march in Delhi on the Republic Day, the Bench said.

"We have told you that we will not issue any direction. It is a police matter. We will allow you to withdraw. You are the authority and you have to deal with it. You have the powers to pass orders, you do it. It is not for the court to pass orders," the bench said.

After the observation of the apex court, the Centre withdrew the plea filed through Delhi Police seeking an injunction against the proposed tractor or trolley march or any other kind of protest which seeks to disrupt the gathering and celebrations of the Republic Day.

On 12 January, the top court had stayed the implementation of the contentious new farm laws till further orders and constituted the four-member committee to make recommendations to resolve the impasse over them between the Centre and farmers' unions protesting at Delhi borders.

Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, are protesting at various border points of Delhi for over a month now against the three laws — the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act.

Enacted in September 2020, the government has presented these laws as major farm reforms aimed at increasing farmers' income. But the protesting farmers have raised concerns that these legislations would weaken the minimum support price (MSP) and "mandi" (wholesale market) systems and leave them at the mercy of big corporations.

The government has maintained that these apprehensions are misplaced and has ruled out a repeal of the laws.

With inputs from PTI

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