SC says it may put farm laws on hold, won’t let govt ‘buy more time’

The Supreme Court on Monday told the government it could put on hold

The Supreme Court on Monday told the government it could put on hold three farm laws as a committee studies them as a measure to solve a weeks-long protests by farmers at Delhi’s outskirts.

The court refused to give the government more time for a solution, criticising the handling of the protests and its eight meetings with farmers. “We have given you long rope, Mr Attorney General, please don’t lecture us on patience,” said a bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde, according to news agency PTI.

Sources said the government would now wait for the court’s judgement expected in a day or two. “We will wait for the Court’s final order but if it wants we can suggest some names while the protesting farmers can suggest some names from their sides and if both sides agree then the panel can be formed which will be sort of Court monitored committee on the laws,” said senior government officials.

He said in the current situation this seems to be the best way forward.

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The counsel representing the protesting farmers where asked whether they could convince the farmers to send back women, children and old people back home, to which the representatives said that they will get back to the Court soon. Farmers deferred a press conference, awaiting a final order from the court.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, that the top court has made “harsh observations” regarding handling of the situation by the government.

“That was the most innocuous factual thing for us to say,” the bench said.

The apex court, which said it will pass orders on the issue concerning farm laws and farmers’ protest in part in the matter, asked the parties to suggest two-three names of former chief justices, including R M Lodha, who can head the apex court-appointed panel.

At the outset, the bench said, “What is going on? States are rebelling against your laws”.

“We are extremely disappointed with the negotiation process,” it said, adding, “We don’t want to make any stray observations on your negotiations but we are extremely disappointed with the process.”

The apex court, which was hearing a clutch of pleas challenging the new farm laws as well as the ones raising issues related to the ongoing agitation at Delhi borders, said it is not talking about the repeal of these farm laws at the moment.

“This is a very delicate situation,” the bench said, adding, “There is not a single petition before us which says that these farm laws are beneficial”.

“We are not experts on economy; you tell us whether government is going to put on hold farm laws or we will do this,” the bench said. “We are sorry to say that Centre has not been able to solve the problem and the farmers’ agitation.”

Attorney General K K Venugopal argued that a law cannot be stayed unless the court finds it violates fundamental rights or constitutional schemes.

“Our intention is to see whether we can find an amicable solution to all this. That is why we had asked you (Centre) whether you are willing to keep these laws on hold for some time. But you wanted to buy time,” said the court, adding, “we don’t know whether you are part of the solution or part of the problem”.

The apex court, which said the matter is getting worse and people are committing suicides, reiterated the need for having a committee comprising representatives from the government and farmer organisations from over the country and said it will stop the implementation of these laws if the panel advises to do so.

It said farmers are protesting against these laws and they can tell their objections to

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It said after the implementation of these laws are stayed, the protestors can carry on with the agitation as the court doesn’t want “anyone to say that we stifled the protest”.

The top court observed that talks are breaking down because the Centre wants to discuss the new farm laws point by point but the farmers want them repealed.

“We are not going to protect any law breakers. We want to prevent the loss of property and lives,” it said.

When the issue of law and order was raised before the bench, “These issues will be taken care by police. Right to protest is intact and Gandhiji exercised Satyagraha. That agitation was much bigger”.

“Let me take a risk and say Chief Justice of India wants them (protesting farmers) to go back to their homes,” the CJI said.

The eighth round of talks between the Centre and the farmer unions on January 7 headed nowhere as the Centre ruled out repealing the contentious laws, while the farmers’ leaders said they are ready to fight till death and their ‘ghar waapsi’ will happen only after ‘law waapsi’.

The apex court had earlier issued notice and sought the Centre’s response on a batch of pleas against the three contentious farm laws — the Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.