Supreme Court stays implementation of farm laws, sets up panel of experts

Shivani Bhardwaj

New Delhi: The Supreme Court of India, on Tuesday 12 January 2021, passed an interim order to stay the implementation of the three farm laws 1) Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; (2) Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020; and (3) Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, until further orders.

The Court has also set up a committee of experts for the purpose of listening to the grievances of the farmers.

Further, the Supreme Court has ordered:

  • The Minimum Support Price System in existence before the enactment of the Farm Laws shall be maintained until further orders.
  • The farmers’ land holdings shall be protected, i.e., no farmer shall be dispossessed or deprived of his title as a result of any action taken under the Farm Laws.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India S A Bobde, and comprising A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, which is hearing this case, has listed the matters after eight weeks and expressed the hope and expectation that both parties (Government of India and the protesting farmers) will take this (Supreme Court order) in the right spirit and attempt to arrive at a fair, equitable and just solution to the problems.

The Supreme Court has considered the ground reality and observed: “the negotiations between the farmers’ bodies and the Government have not yielded any result so far. Therefore, we are of the view that the constitution of a Committee
of experts in the field of agriculture to negotiate between the farmers’ bodies and the Government of India may create a congenial atmosphere and improve the trust and confidence of the farmers. We are also of the view that a stay of implementation of all the three farm laws for the present, may assuage the hurt feelings of the farmers and encourage them to come to the negotiating table with confidence and good faith.

A Committee comprising of (1) Shri Bhupinder Singh Mann, National President, Bhartiya Kisan Union and All India Kisan
Coordination Committee; (2) Dr. Parmod Kumar Joshi, Agricultural Economist, Director for South Asia, International
Food Policy Research Institute; (3) Shri Ashok Gulati, Agricultural Economist and Former Chairman of the Commission
for Agricultural Costs and Prices; and (4) Shri Anil Ghanwat, President, Shetkari Sanghatana, has been constituted by the Supreme Court for the purpose of listening to the grievances of the farmers relating to the farm laws and the views of the Government and to make recommendations. This Committee shall be provided a place as well as Secretarial assistance at Delhi by the Government.

All expenses for the Committee to hold sittings at Delhi or anywhere else shall be borne by the Central Government. The representatives of all the farmers’ bodies, whether they are holding a protest or not and whether they support or oppose the laws shall participate in the deliberations of the Committee and put forth their view points. The Committee
shall, upon hearing the Government as well as the representatives of the farmers’ bodies, and other stakeholders, submit a Report before this Court containing its recommendations. This shall be done within two months from the
date of its first sitting. The first sitting shall be held within ten days from today.

The Court has said in its order:

“We may not stifle a peaceful protest, we think that this extraordinary order of stay of implementation of the farm laws will be perceived as an achievement of the purpose of such protest at least for the present and will encourage the farmers bodies to convince their members to get back to their livelihood, both in order to protect their own lives and health and in order to protect the lives and properties of others.”

The order goes on to underscore regarding the apprehension that MSP [Minimum Support Price] was being done away with that itr has been submitted across the Bar that it may not be dismantled. Especially the Court has brought on record that the Solicitor General also has confirmed that there are inherent safgeguards, in-built in the Farm Laws, for the protection of the land of the farmers and that it will be ensured that no farmer will lose his land.

V. Chitambaresh, senior counsel, appearing for Bhartiya Kisan Sangh [applicant in IA No. 136682/2020 in WP[C]
No. 1118/2020 submitted that the Union which he represents is not aggrieved by the Farm Laws.

Sridhar Potaraju, counsel appearing for the the Consortium of Indian Farmers Association (CIFA) submitted that his client represents 15 farmers’ unions across 15 States and that they will be badly affected if a stay of the implementatin of the Farm Laws is ordered. He informed the Court that the farmers whom he represents, cultivate fruits and vegetables and that about 21 million tonnes of fruits and vegetables will rot, if anything is done at this stage.

Some of the farmers’ bodies that are opposing the Farm Laws and are represented before the Supreme Court of India through counsel, have agreed to go before the Committee.

P Wilson, senior counsel representing one section of farmers from Tamil Nadu welcomed the proposal to stay the implementation of the Laws and the constitution of the Committee and stated that his client would go before the Committee. Similarly, A.P. Singh, counsel appearing for Bhartiya Kisan Union [BHANU] also submitted that the representatives of the Union will participate in the negotiations. He even went to the extent of saying that
elders, women and children will be dissuaded from being there at the site of protest.

The Court appreciated the submission of K.K. Venugopal, the Attorney General, but added that it cannot be said to be completely powerless to grant stay of any executive action under a statutory enactment and underscored this by referring to the interim Order passed by the Supreme Court in Dr. Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil Vs. The Chief Minister & Anr. (Civil Appeal No.3123 of 2020) directing that admissions to educational institutions for the Academic Year 2020-21 and appointments to public services and posts under the Government shall be made without reference to the reservation provided under the impugned legislation.

The Attorney General contended that the Court should not stay the implementation of the laws. He argued that none of the petitioners who have attacked the farm laws have pointed out any single provision which is detrimental to the farmers and that the laws enacted by Parliament cannot be stayed by this Court, especially when there is a presumption in favour of the constitutionality of legislation.

When the Attorney General submitted that there are reports that the farmers bodies may take out a tractor rally on January 26, 2021, disrupting the Republic Day Parade and celebrations, it was stoutly denied by Dushyant Dave, senior counsel appearing for a few of the farmers’ bodies on the ground that at least one member of the family of each of the farmers from Punjab is in the Army and that they would not disrupt the Republic Day celebrations.

A few farmers’ bodies who are now protesting, have engaged a team of lawyers comprising of Dushyant Dave, Colin
Gonsalves, H.S. Phoolka and Prashant Bhushan to represent their cause. The interim order has placed on record that “today this team of lawyers is absent.”

While lauding the farmers as they have carried on the agitation peacefully and without any untoward incident till now. the order places on record that it was pointed out in the course of hearing that a few persons who are not farmers
have also joined, with a view to show solidarity with the farmers. An apprehension was expressed that the possibility of some persons creating trouble cannot be entirely ruled out. In fact, a specific averment is made in an intervention application filed by one Indian Kisan Union, in I.A. No.3324/2021 in W.P.(C) No.1441/2020 that an organisation by name “Sikhs for Justice”, which is banned for anti-India secessionist movement is financing the agitation. This averment was supported by the Attorney General also.

Tuesday’s order says:

“Though several rounds of negotiations have taken place between the Government of India and the farmers’ bodies, no solution seems to be in sight. The situation on ground is: (i) that senior citizens, women and children are at site, exposing themselves to serious health hazards posed by cold and COVID; (ii) that a few deaths have taken place, though not out of any violence, but either out of illness or by way of suicide.”

There are three categories of petitions, all revolving around the validity or otherwise of three laws namely:

  1. Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020;
  2. Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020; and
  3. Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, (hereinafter referred to as the ‘farm laws’), and the protest by farmers against these
    laws.

One category of petitions challenge the constitutional validity of the farm laws. Included within this category of
petitions, is a petition under Article 32 challenging the validity of the Constitution (Third Amendment) Act, 1954, by which Entry 33 was substituted in List III (concurrent list) in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, enabling the Central Government also to legislate on a subject which was otherwise in the State List.

Another category of petitions are those which support the farm laws on the ground that they are constitutionally valid and also beneficial to the farmers. The third category of petitions are those filed by individuals who are residents of the National Capital Territory of Delhi as well as the neighbouring States, claiming that the agitation by farmers in the peripheries of Delhi and the consequent blockade of roads/highways leading to Delhi, infringes the fundamental rights of other citizens to move freely throughout the territories of India and their right to carry on trade and business.

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