Farm Laws & Farmers Protests : Recap Of Eventful Supreme Court Hearings


19 Nov 2021 8:19 AM GMT

  • Farm Laws & Farmers Protests : Recap Of Eventful Supreme Court Hearings

    The Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced today morning that the Central Government will take steps in the upcoming Parliament session to repeal the three controversial farm laws, against which several farmers organizations have been holding country wide protests over the past one year.While the passage of the three farm laws by the Parliament in September 2020 triggered off widespread...

    The Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced today morning that the Central Government will take steps in the upcoming Parliament session to repeal the three controversial farm laws, against which several farmers organizations have been holding country wide protests over the past one year.

    While the passage of the three farm laws by the Parliament in September 2020 triggered off widespread protests by farmers - who feared the dismantling of the Agriculture Products Marketing Committees, Minimum Support Price mechanism and corporate exploitation - the issue also reached the Supreme Court through several writ petitions.

    Here is a brief recap of the dramatic hearings which took place in the Supreme Court in cases related to farm laws and farmers protests.

    The laws in question are :  (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.

    October 2020 : SC issues notice on petitions challenging farm law

    On October 12, 2020, a bench led by the then Chief Justice of India SA Bobde issued notice on a batch of petitions challenging the validity of the three farm laws. The petitions challenged the constitutional validity of these laws and also questioned the competence of the Parliament to enact the same on the ground that these were state subjects. The bench was considering three writ petitions filed by Manohar Lal Sharma, office bearers of Chattisgarh Kisan Congress (Rakesh Vaishnav and others) and DMP MP Tiruchi Siva. Later, few other petitions were also filed challenging the farm laws, which were tagged with the previous petitions.

    December 2020 : Petitions filed in Supreme Court against farmers protests

    In the first week of December, writ petitions were filed in the Supreme Court by few NCR residents seeking the removal of the protesters who were camping at Delhi-NCR borders. The petitioners contended that the assembly of farmers increased the risk of COVID spread. They also relied on the judgment delivered by the Supreme Court in the Shaheen Bagh case to argue that farmers had no right to block public roads.

    December 17, 2020 : Farmers have right to hold peaceful protests, says Supreme Court

    On December 16 & 17, 2020, a bench led by the Chief Justice of India heard a batch of petitions which sought the removal of protesting farmers from Delhi-NCR borders.

    During the hearing of December 16, the CJI observed that the negotiations held by the Government were not yielding results. In that hearing, the bench gave the first indication that it might form a committee to hold talks with the farm groups.

    When the petitioners argued that the farmers are blocking roads, the CJI asked if the blockade was being imposed by the Delhi police.

    "The only party before us who has blocked the road is you (Government)", the CJI told the Solicitor General.

    In the next day's hearing, the CJI observed that the Court was only concerned with the farmers protests and will consider the question of validity of laws only later.

    "We will not decide the validity of the laws today. The first and the only thing we will decide today is regarding the farmers protest and the fundamental right of citizens to move. The question of validity of laws can wait", the CJI said.

    The CJI also asked the Attorney General for India if the Government can put on hold the implementation of the laws to facilitate talks. The AG said that he will get the response of the Central Government.

    Senior Advocate Harish Salve urged the Court to pass some urgent orders saying that the farmers protests were blocking the right to free movement of Delhi-NCR residents.

    However, the Court refrained from issuing any such directions and clarified that it will not interfere with the protests. "It is not as if Delhi is choking...", the CJI told Salve.

    In the order passed, the Court made in unequivocally clear that the farmers have the right to have peaceful protests.

    The order stated :

    "We clarify that this Court will not interfere with the protest in question. Indeed the right to protest is part of a fundamental right and can as a matter of fact, be exercised subject to public order. There can certainly be no impediment in the exercise of such rights as long as it is non-violent and does not result in damage to the life and properties of other citizens and is in accordance with law.

    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".

    January 2021 : "You made a law without enough consultations", SC raps Centre

    On the next hearing date, January 12,2021, the Supreme Court was upset with the fact that the Centre did not voluntarily take a decision to freeze the implementation of the farm laws to resolve the deadlock with the farmers. The Court lashed out that the Government made the laws without enough consultations.

    "We are extremely disappointed at the way government is handling all this (farmers protests). We don't know what consultative process you followed before the laws. Many states are up in rebellion...We are sorry to say that you, as the Union of India, are not able to solve the problem. You have made a law without enough consultation resulting in a strike. So you have to resolve the strike", the CJI told the Attorney General.

    People are dying, suffering

    The CJI also noted that many protesters have ended their lives and some have succumbed to cold.

    "We asked you this last occasion. But you haven't replied. And the matter is getting worse. People are committing suicide. People are suffering in the cold".

    "We asked before vacations if they will put the laws on hold. They have not yet responded".

    We don't want anyone's blood on our hands

    The CJI expressed the apprehension that if the protests continue in a surcharged atmosphere for long, it might lead to violence and loss of lives and property.

    "We have an apprehension that someone will do something a day which will lead to breach of peace. Each one of us will be responsible if something goes wrong. We don't want anybody's blood on our hands".

    Khalistanis have infiltrated farmers groups, Attorney General tells SC

    The Attorney General told the Supreme Court that Khalistanis have infiltrated the protests. The CJI asked the AG to file an affidavit to that effect.

    January 12, 2021 : SC stays implementation of farm laws; constitutes committee

    After the hearing on January 12, 2021, the Supreme Court passed an order to stay the implementation of the three farm laws and constituted a committee to make recommendations about the laws after listening to the greivances of the farmers and the views of the government.

    The Court also ordered that the MPS system will continue in the meantime as existed before and that no farmer must be dispossessed or deprived of his title as a result of any action taken under the laws.

    In the order, the Court expressed the hope that the directions will encourage the farmers to end protests and return to their native villages.

    Farmers express no-confidence with SC-committee as it had members supporting the laws

    The Supreme Court order raised many eyebrows as it consisted of persons who supported the farm laws in public. Bhupinder Singh Mann, Dr. Parmod Kumar Joshi,  Ashok Gulati, and Anil Ghanwat were the members named by the Supreme Court. Notably, all of them had expressed public views in support of the implementation of the farm laws.

    Supreme Court Forms Committee To Negotiate On Farm Laws With Members Supporting Farm Laws Implementation

    This led to the farmers groups expressing no-confidence with the Committee. Following the controversy, Bhupinder Singh Mann decided to recuse from the Committee "in view of the prevailing sentiments and apprehensions amongst the farm unions and the public in general".

    CJI upset with public criticism about farmers committee

    On the next day of hearing, January 19, the Chief Justice of India expressed unhappiness over the public criticism against the Committee.

    "Just because a person has expressed a view on the matter, that is not a disqualification to be a member of a Committee", the CJI said. The CJI said that the Court appointed qualified persons and added that a person can change views.

    Supreme Court refuses to stop tractor parade on Republic day

    On January 19, the Supreme Court also refused to pass orders on an application filed by the Delhi Police seeking to stop the tractor parade planned by farmers in the national capital on the Republic Day. The Delhi Police in its application said that the tractor parade will result in "globally maligning" the Country and raised law and order apprehensions.

    The Court declined to pass orders saying that assessment of law and order problem is the job of the executive. "We have told the AG and SG before that whether who should be allowed and who should not be allowed and the number of people who can enter are all matters of law and order to be dealt with the by the police. We are not the first authority. You are at liberty to invoke all powers under the law", the CJI told the Attorney General.

    March 2021 : SC Committee submits report

    In March 2021, the 3-member SC Committee submitted the report on farm laws before the Supreme Court in a sealed cover. The farm unions had refused to meet the panel. The contents of the report are yet to be made public.

    Noida resident files petition to remove blockade at Delhi-NCR

    Later, a Noida resident named Monicca Agarwal filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court saying that her daily commute time increased due to the blockade of roads by protesting farmers.

    In April 2021, a bench led by Justice SK Kaul (who delivered the judgment against Shaheen Bagh protests as part of anti-CAA agitation), issued notice on the petition, observing "public streets should not be blocked".

    Later, in August, the bench asked the Centre to "find a solution", after reiterating that public movement cannot be stopped in the name of protests.

    "Redressal can be through judicial forum agitation or parliamentary debates but how can highways be blocked and this cannot be a perpetual problem", Justice Kaul during the hearing of the case.

    The Haryana Government told the bench that it has formed a committee to hold talks with the farmers but the union leaders did not come forward to attend the meeting.

    Can protests continue when matter is sub-judice?

    Meanwhile, another bench led by Justice AM Khanwilkar asked whether an organization which has approached the Court challenging the farm laws can still exercise the right to protest against the same.

    The bench was hearing a petition filed by Kisan Mahapanchayat seeking permission to hold protests at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. The bench decided to examine the legal issue whether a party can protest on an issue which is sub-judice.

    However, the other bench led by Justice SK Kaul seemed to have a divergent view. During the hearing of the Monicca Agarwal case, Justice Kaul orally remarked that he was not against protests when legal challenge was pending, but added that streets should not be blocked.

    "I'm not averse to their right to protest even when legal challenge is pending. But roads cannot be blocked", Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul said.

    The petitions challenging the validity of farm laws are pending adjudication. 

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