New Delhi: In a major blow to the Government of India, the country’s Supreme Court has put on hold the farm laws enacted in September last year forcing thousands of farmers to protest against the government’s move.

The top court also said a committee of agricultural experts would be formed to take over negotiations with farmers to end the crisis, NDTV reported.

Chief Justice of India Sharad Arvind Bobde has said: “We are staying three farm laws until further orders.”

Earlier, GoI had told the top court that the laws “were not hurriedly made”, that they were the result of two decades of deliberations.

So far, despite the eight-round of talks that GoI claims it had with the farmers’ unions have yielded no results.

The Supreme Court said it was trying to solve the problem in the best way and had the power to suspend the laws.

“These are matters of life and death. We are concerned with laws. We are concerned with the lives and property of people affected by the agitation. We are trying to solve the problem in the best way. One of the powers we have is to suspend the legislation,” the Chief Justice said.

“We want to solve the problem and that’s why we are making the committee. Give the names to us, we will decide,” he added.

The top court also issued notice to farmers’ unions on a Delhi Police plea to stop a tractor rally during the January 26 Republic Day parade.

The judges rebuffed the lawyer for protesting farmers, ML Sharma, as he said farmers would not participate in the committee as Prime Minister Narendra Modi had refused to talk to them. “We cannot ask the PM anything, he is not a party before us,” said the Chief Justice.

Meanwhile, various political parties and other organisations have welcomed the move and praised the top court for the ‘important’ decision.

Earlier on Monday, Supreme Court asked the GoI whether it would pause the implementation of three controversial farm laws at the core of massive farmer protests near Delhi, saying the situation had gone worse. “Tell us whether you will put the laws on hold or else we will do it. What’s the ego here?”

The court’s sharp remarks came during a hearing on petitions challenging the farm laws and the farmer agitation at the Delhi borders.

Quoting Chief Justice of India SA Bobde saying in sharp remarks, a report by NDTV had said: “Each one of us will be responsible if anything goes wrong. We don’t want any injuries or blood on our hands”.

The top court had suggested that after the implementation of the laws stayed, the protest could continue. “But decide whether you want to carry on the protest on the same site or move to other,” it the report quoted the SC as saying.

The top quoted had previously noted that there was no improvement on the ground, and it was told by the GoI that “healthy discussions” were going on between the government and the unions over all outstanding issues.

“We have asked in the last hearing but no answer. The situation has gone worse. People have committed suicide. Why are the old and the women part of the agitation in this weather?” the Chief Justice questioned the government.

The report added that the court urged the GoI to set up a committee and added: “If the government is not doing it on its own, hold the implementation, we will say.”

Quoting  Attorney General KK Venugopal arguing for the government, the report said: “You can form a committee but don’t stay the laws.” He referred to past judgments stating courts can’t hold a law without going into its unconstitutionality.

Venugopal also sought to highlight that “only farmers from two or three states are protesting”, that there was no participation from southern or western India.

Pertinently, anger against the GoI has been simmering since the month of September when the parliament of India passed three farm laws. Thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have marched to New Delhi and are nearing the borders.

After failing to garner support from their respective state governments, the farmers have decided to mount pressure on the GoI, due to which they are coming to Delhi.

In UP and Haryana, BJP led governments have failed to convince farmers, however, governments of Rajasthan and Punjab have extended full support to their agitation.

Farmers want GoI to either withdraw the three legislations or guarantee them the minimum support price (MSP) for their crops by introducing a new law.

Gurnam Singh Chaduni is leading the protestors from Haryana. Gurnam had contested the 2019 Assembly elections from Ladwa constituency in Kurukshetra district, but got only 1,307 votes. However, he was quite active in raising farmers’ issues and led several protests across the state.

Apart from Gurnam, several national and regional farm unions, comprising many leaders, have joined hands under the umbrella banner of Samyukt Kisan Morcha.

As farmers do not accept the three new legislations — The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation); The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance; and Farm Services and The Essential Commodities (Amendment), they believe the laws will open agricultural sale and marketing outside the notified Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis for farmers, remove the barriers to inter-state trade, and provide a framework for electronic trading of agricultural produce.

Since the state governments will not be able to collect market fee, cess or levy for trade outside the APMC markets, farmers believe the laws will gradually end the mandi system and leave farmers at the mercy of corporates.

They are also of the opinion that dismantling the mandi system will bring an end to the assured procurement of their crops at MSP. Similarly, farmers believe the price assurance legislation may offer protection to farmers against price exploitation, but will not prescribe the mechanism for price fixation.

Farmers are demanding the government guarantee MSP in writing, or else the free hand given to private corporate houses will lead to their exploitation.

 

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