Will not interfere in farmers' protest, says SC; NCP demands special Parliament session, Tomar writes letter
A farmer from Punjab was found dead near the Tikri border on Thursday morning while the key routes on Delhi borders remained closed on the 22nd day of the farmers agitation
The Supreme Court on Thursday acknowledged the farmers' right to protest, saying it will not interfere in the agitation against the Centre's three contentious farm laws at the borders of Delhi and mooted the idea of putting on hold the implementation of the laws. Meanwhile, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar reached out to the protesters, once again stating that the government would give a written assurance that the MSP system will continue.
In an open letter, Tomar urged farmers not to fall prey to the "lies".
Tomar's letter came after a meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Piyush Goyal and top BJP functionaries at the party headquarters in New Delhi. The BJP has upped its campaign to generate support among the public towards the contentious farm laws.
Meanwhile, the Delhi Assembly passed a resolution to repeal the Acts in a special one-day session, which also saw Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and AAP MLA Mahendra Goyal, among others, tearing copies of the reforms.
In Maharashtra, a sub-committee of the state Cabinet, which was formed to study the contentious farm reforms of the Centre, met for the first time in Mumbai. After the meet, the NCP has demanded a special session of the Parliament to address the concerns of the farmers, stating that the Central Government did not seem to be sympathetic towards the protesting peasants.
What was the hurry to get Farm Laws passed in Parliament during pandemic? It has happened for 1st time that 3 laws were passed without voting in Rajya Sabha...I hereby tear 3 Farm laws in this assembly & appeal Centre not to become worst than Britishers: Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal https://t.co/zvc2Dx1w3E pic.twitter.com/rUOACIQwp3
— ANI (@ANI) December 17, 2020
At the protest sites near the National Capital, a farmer from Punjab was found dead near the Tikri border on Thursday morning while the key routes on the borders were closed on the 22nd day of the farmers agitation. On Wednesday, a Sikh priest had killed himself over the farm laws.
Thousands of farmers are currently staying put at Delhi's borders with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh demanding the rollback of the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020. Farmers are also against the Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2020, which could add to the burden of farmers.
The new laws 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. However, protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that the laws will pave way for eliminating the safety cushion of minimum support price (MSP) and do away with the mandis, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates.
SC acknowledges right to protest
The Supreme Court, while hearing a clutch of petitions seeking removal of farmers protesting at several roads along Delhi's borders, acknowledged the right of farmers to non-violent protests but said it shouldn't infringe the fundamental rights of others to move freely and in getting essential food and other supplies.
The court also made it clear that the issue of farmers' protest and the right of others to move freely of others would be dealt on priority, and not the validity of laws at the moment.
A bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde said that in a democracy, police and authorities have to be given power to prevent the protestors from infringing the rights of others.
"We acknowledge the right of farmers to protest but it has to be non-violent," it said. The top court said the purpose of staging protest can be achieved if the farmers and the government hold talks, and "we wish to facilitate that".
The top court told Bharatiya Kisan Union (Bhanu) group, which was the only farmer organisation present before the court through lawyer AP Singh, that they cannot keep on protesting without talking to the government.
The top court also said it was thinking of setting up an "impartial and independent" panel of agriculture experts and farmer unions to resolve the impasse and in an order released later in the day, sought suggestions on the committee's constitution by the next hearing, which will take place after the winter vacation.
The bench said it would pass order on constituting a committee only after hearing all the parties, including the protesting farmer unions and suggested putting on hold the implementation of new agri laws, saying this would enable negotiations with farmers.
However, Attorney General KK Venugopal opposed the suggestion and said if the implementation of the farm laws was put on hold, then farmers would not come forward for negotiations.
The top court said it was not asking the Centre to stay the farm laws, but only suggesting that its implementation be put on hold for the time being to enable the farmers to talk with the government.
The top court said it will pass orders for serving notices to the protesting farmer unions and give them the liberty to approach the vacation bench during the winter break.
In its order, the court said it will not interfere with the farmers protest. "We're of the view at this stage that the farmers’ protest should be allowed to continue without impediment and without any breach of peace either by the protesters or police," the order said.
"Indeed the right to protest is part of a fundamental right and can as a matter of fact, be exercised subject to public order," LiveLaw quoted the court as saying.
"We are of the view at this stage that the farmers’ protest should be allowed to continue without impediment and without any breach of peace either by the protesters or the police" pic.twitter.com/Zp13K7t2gJ
— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) December 17, 2020
According to reports, agitating farmers in a meeting on Thursday evening decided to consult four Supreme Court lawyers — Prashant Bhushan, Dushyant Dave, HS Phoolka and Colin Gonsalves — on the ongoing proceedings in the apex court.
"We will neither comment on the matter nor announce any decision without consulting these lawyers," The Hindustan Times quoted coordinator of Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh KV Biju as saying at a press conference at Singhu border.
The Sanyukta Kisan Morch also decided to form a four-member internal committee to deal with all issues arising from the Supreme Court's intervention in the farmers' protest under the leadership of Balbir Singh Rajewal ( BKU, Rajewal), reported CNN-News18.
The protesting farmer leaders welcomed the apex court's move to acknowledge the right of farmers to non-violent protests, but asserted that their agitation will continue until a concrete solution is found, reported PTI.
Delhi HC dismisses plea
The Delhi High Court declined to entertain a plea seeking aid, security and treatment of the farmers protesting, saying a similar issue was before the Supreme Court.
A bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan also said that the high court's jurisdiction does not extend to areas outside the National Capital territory and added that the same plea could have been filed in any of the high courts of Rajasthan, Punjab or Uttar Pradesh. The bench also observed that the plea was filed without doing any research or preparation and dismissed it.
Key routes closed
Also on Thursday, members of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ambavat) faction reached Noida and attempted to move to Delhi to join the bigger stir but were prohibited by police deployed in a large number near the Chilla border.
The farmers were stopped near Mahamaya flyover on the Noida-Delhi Link Road, with the development obstructing traffic movement on the key route, according to police officials.
"The Noida-Delhi Link Road via Chilla is partially closed. Movement from Delhi to Noida is allowed but not otherwise, due to the farmers' stir," a Noida Traffic Police official told PTI.
"Commuters have been advised to opt the DND or the Kalindi Kunj route for travelling to and from Delhi," the official said, adding that the route has been diverted from Dalit Prerna Sthal to the DND flyway.
According to the city police, Singhu, Auchandi, Piau Maniyari, Sabholi and Mangesh borders were also closed and commuters were advised to take alternate routes via Lampur, Safiabad and Singhu school toll tax borders, while traffic has been diverted from Mukarba and GTK road, they said. The Outer Ring Road, GTK road and NH-44 should be avoided, the police said.
Those travelling to Haryana can take Jharoda (only single carriageway), Daurala, Kapashera, Badusarai, Rajokri NH 8, Bijwasan/Bajghera, Palam Vihar and Dundahera Borders, the police said.
Later in the day, the Delhi Traffic Police said that Gazipur border is closed for traffic coming from Ghaziabad to Delhi due to farmers protests and advised people to take alternate route for coming to Delhi via Anand Vihar, DND, Apsara and Bhopra borders.
Farmers pay tribute
Meanwhile, protestors from various districts of western Uttar Pradesh and chiefly belonging to the BKU (Bhanu) and the BKU (Lok Shakti) stayed put at the Chilla border and the Dalit Prerna Sthal, respectively.
Members of the BKU (Lok Shakti) paid tribute to 16 people who "laid down their lives for the farmers' cause" and a 65-year-old Sikh preacher supporting the farmers' agitation who allegedly died by suicide near the Singhu border on Wednesday, the party's national spokesperson Shailesh Kumar Giri said.
"The Centre's three new anti-farmer laws pushed them into taking the extreme step," Giri alleged.
Farmer found dead at Tikri border
At a protest site near the Tikri border, Jai Singh, a 38-year-old farmer from Punjab was found dead on Thursday morning, police said.
An official of the Bahadurgarh police said the body was sent to the Bahadurgarh civil hospital in Jhajjar district of Haryana added that the exact cause of the death could be ascertained after a post mortem.
Singh's brother suspected that he might have died of heart attack.
Singh, a resident of Tungwali village in Bathinda district, and his brother had been part of the farmers' protest at the Haryana-Delhi border the last several days, according to Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) leader Shingara Singh and demanded a compensation of Rs 10 lakh and a government job for the kin of the deceased.
At the Chilla border, Yogesh Pratap Singh, the Uttar Pradesh unit chief of the BKU (Bhanu), along with some supporters remained on hunger strike which had started on 14 December, said a protestor belonging to his faction.
BJP ups campaign in support of farm laws: Tomar pens letter, Modi rally in MP
Meanwhile, the Union Agriculture Minister, in an open letter to farmers, claimed that new laws have created a ray of hope amongst many farmers and examples of the new laws benefitting farmers have also been seen across the country. However, he said, misconception was being created among different organisations about these laws.
"As the agriculture minister of the country, my duty is to dispel the misconception and worry faced by every farmer. A wall of lies and conspiracies is being created between the Centre and farmers in Delhi and the surrounding areas and it is my responsibility to bring forward the truth and reality before you," the letter said.
Tomar alleged that those with vested political interests were spreading "white lies" and urged the farmers to remove these lies from their minds.
In a table showing 'falsehoods' vs 'reality', the minister listed issues such as the continuation of MSP and APMCs and the question of remuneration to farmers.
सभी किसान भाइयों और बहनों से मेरा आग्रह !
"सबका साथ सबका विकास सबका विश्वास" के मंत्र पर चलते हुए प्रधानमंत्री श्री @narendramodi जी के नेतृत्व में हमारी सरकार ने बिना भेदभाव सभी का हित करने का प्रयास किया है। विगत 6 वर्षों का इतिहास इसका साक्षी है।#ModiWithFarmers pic.twitter.com/Ty6GchESUG
— Narendra Singh Tomar (@nstomar) December 17, 2020
Tomar highlighted measures taken by the government in the last six years to boost farmers' income and make the agriculture sector profitable, including cash transfers under the PM-KISAN scheme and Rs 1 lakh crore agri-infrastructure fund and reiterated that the laws will benefit farmers.
The minister also reiterated that the government was ready to provide a written assurance on MSP and said that state governments can be allowed to levy tax on private markets outside the APMCs.
Tomar put out the letter on Twitter shortly after attending over an hour-long meeting with Shah, Goyal, Sitharaman and BJP general secretaries including CT Ravi, Dushyant Gautam and Arun Singh.
During the meeting Shah reviewed the BJP's outreach programme through press conferences and 'chaupals' or open meetings across all districts, sources told PTI.
Since the large-scale farmers' agitation began a few weeks ago, the BJP has been organising press conferences and 'chaupals' in all the districts of the country on the new agriculture-related bills passed recently by the Central government.
The party has planned to hold 700 press conferences and 700 'chaupals' in the coming days.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to speak about the "beneficial provisions" of the new farm laws during his virtual address to the farmers of Madhya Pradesh around 2 pm on Friday as part of a state-level Kisan Kalyan event in Raisen district, said an official of the state Public Relations Department.
Nearly 20,000 farmers are likely to take part in the state-level programme in Raisen, the official said, adding that similar events will also be organised at district, block and panchayat levels in the state.
The Centre on Thursday also issued a 100 page e-booklet, 'Putting Farmers First' highlighting the success stories of farmers who have benefited from contract farming after enactment of these legislations.
Convene special Parliament session: NCP
Meanwhile, the Opposition in different states continued supporting the farmers in their agitation. The NCP, stating that the Central Government did not seem to be sympathetic towards the protesting peasants, demanded that a special Parliament session be convened to address their concerns.
Maharashtra Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat, after a meeting of the sub-committee of the Cabinet, formed to study the contentious reforms, said the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government in the state wanted to frame laws that will make farmers "stronger". The ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition in the state has already announced support to the ongoing farmers' stir at Delhi borders.
A meeting was held under the chairmanship of DCM @AjitPawarSpeaks to review the unjust agricultural laws made by the Centre. While the central laws are not in the interest of the farmers, the state government is in the mindset of enacting laws that will strengthen the farmers.
— Balasaheb Thorat (@bb_thorat) December 17, 2020
Delhi Assembly passes resolution against agri laws
In Delhi, the state Assembly passed a resolution against the laws through a voice vote, with Kejriwal saying he cannot betray the farmers and tearing copies of the reforms.
Addressing the Delhi Assembly, the chief minister also alleged the laws have been made for "electoral funding of the BJP and not the farmers".
"I am a citizen of this country first, a chief minister later. This Assembly rejects the three laws and appeals to the central government to meet the demands of the farmers," he said.
Kejriwal further said 20 protesting farmers have died so far and asked when would the Centre "wake up". He also questioned the urgency of passing the bills during the COVID-19 pandemic and alleged it was done without voting.
Besides Kejriwal, copies of the new agri laws were torn in the House by Development minister Gopal Rai and AAP MLAs Mahendar Goyal and Somnath Bharti.
The BJP legislators hit out at the AAP saying it was opposing the laws in view of Punjab Assembly elections in 2022. Leader of Opposition Ramvir Singh Bidhuri also questioned the AAP government as to why it was opposing the farm laws when it had notified one of them in November.
The Delhi govt has already notified the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act 2020 in November. The law allows sale of produce outside APMC mandis, a major contention of the protesting farmers.
Ruckus ensued in the Assembly with AAP MLAs trooping into well, tearing copies and raising slogans even after the resolution was passed and Assembly Speaker Ram Niwas Goel adjourned the House twice.
The AAP MLAs burnt copies of the laws in the Assembly premises after the House was adjourned
SAD leader and Bathinda MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal camed down strongly on Kejriwal, saying the the Delhi chief minsier was known as a "dramebaaz" but this time he indulged in "cheap theatrics" and "unparalleled hypocrisy" by tearing up the same laws in the Vidhan Sabha, one of which he had notified on 23 November.
With inputs from PTI
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The previous rounds of negotiation failed to end the protests, even as unions said they will not settle for anything less than their demands of MSP and repeal of farm laws
Rahul Gandhi calls Centre's farm laws 'criminal', claims legislations aimed at benefitting 5 to 6 people close to PM
He alleged that Modi wanted the farmers to negotiate with 'huge corporates' rather than the ryots going to mandis or negotiating with small traders
The Supreme Court had on Tuesday stayed the implementation of the three laws and appointed a four-member panel to resolve the impasse