India’s Supreme Court intervenes, asks govt to stay farm laws

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The Chief Justice of India said: “Whether you have trust in the government is immaterial. We are the Supreme Court and we will do what we do.” (Image: ANI)

The Supreme Court of India today came down heavily on the government over the impasse in negotiations with farmers, who have been on protest for 42 days, and over opaqueness in bringing in the laws.

“Are you a part of the problem or solution?”

That was the rhetorical-sounding question the Chief Justice of India’s Supreme Court asked the government today, adopting a hard stance.

The Supreme Court of India met today to hear a clutch of pleas challenging the controversial new farm laws as well as ones regarding the ongoing protests at Delhi borders and made some sharp observations on the deadlock between the farmers and the Indian government. The Court asked the government to first stay the laws and then negotiate.

The SC stated that it was disappointed with the way the discussions between the central government and farmers have progressed, and will pass an order on the matter today or tomorrow. The SC asked the government to stay the laws until a Court-appointed committee submits a report. 

The government has earlier said there was “no question” of a repeal of the laws. The two sides are set to next meet on Friday.

“Don’t lecture us”

Even after nine rounds of deliberations have happened between the two groups, there has been no success in reaching an understanding. The bench constituting Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde, Justices V Ramasubramanian, and AS Bopanna expressed disappointment at the government for not resolving the farmers protest: 

“We are extremely disappointed with the government’s handling all this. We don’t see you are dealing with this issue effectively. We don’t know what consultative process you followed before the laws. Many states are up in rebellion.”

When the Attorney General, on behalf of the government, asked the court to not to decide in haste, Bobde said: “We have given you a very long rope. Don’t lecture us on patience. We will decide when to pass the order. We might pass in part today and in part tomorrow.”  

For good measure, he added: “Are you a part of the problem or solution?”

The bench asked: “Some people have committed suicide, old people and women are a part of the agitation. What is happening?” The Bench also added that not a single plea has been filed that stated that the “farm laws are good.”

When one of the intervenors submitted that they have trust in the government, the CJI replied: “Whether you have trust in the government is immaterial. We are the Supreme Court and we will do what we do.”

When the Attorney General argued that the court cannot stay legislation, the CJI said: “Staying the implementation of laws and staying the law is different. We can always stay executive action under a law.”

“We will not stop the protest”

The CJI expressed concerns over the protests continuing and ending in violence. “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.”

The apex court also stated that it would not pass an order to stop the protests when Senior Advocate Harish Salve submitted that the Court should also stop the protest if it is staying the implementation of the new farm laws. CJI said: “Court will not pass an order that citizens should not protest.”  

“We are not against protests. Don’t understand that the Court is stifling protests,” the CJI said. However, SC indicated that even though it will not stop the protest, it will consider the protest site to be shifted elsewhere from Delhi border roads. 

The CJI also requested old people and women to go back from the protest site. Senior Advocate HS Phoolka, arguing one of the farmers’ unions, submitted that these old people came from villages on their own as their sentiments were hurt. “I want to take a risk. I want you to tell them that the Chief Justice of India wants them [old people and women] to go back. Try to persuade them,” the CJI responded.

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