CJI Rejects “Bias Opinion” Enough Ground for Disqualification of Panel Members

Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Jan 19: The Supreme Court – appointed committee of experts to mediate between the protesting farmers and the adamant central government over the contentious farm laws, has decided to go ahead with the task on hand without waiting for the apex court to fill up the vacancy created by the recusal by one of the members.

The panel members went ahead with their “internal meeting” as the Chief Justice of India S A Bobde rejected all suggestions that the composition of the committee should be changed because all the four members had publicly expressed views in support of the new farms laws after enactment by Parliament in September.

The three remaining members of the committee held their first meeting on Tuesday among themselves and discussed the terms of reference of the committee and the modalities on which it would operate even though the apex court was seized with the matter to consider appointing a fourth member in the next few days when it also take up the bunch of petitions seeking ban on the farmers holding rallies on Delhi thoroughfares on the Republic Day.

Within days of his nomination in the committee, the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Mann) president Bhupinder Singh Mann, a former Rajya Sabha member, recused himself from the panel to resolve the impasse over the three farm laws. Mann, who is also chairman of All India Kisan Coordination Committee, had recused himself from the court-appointed panel two days after his induction, saying “I will always stand with my farmers and Punjab”. He allegedly pulled out of the committee after several farmers’ bodies opposed his appointment in the committee citing his earlier “pro-farm law” statements in the past.

Similar objections had also been raised against the three remaining members too but the apex court refused to pay heed to it but Bobde on Tuesday was quoted in the media as saying that some members ”expressing their views on the farm laws before their selection is no ground for disqualification and that their opinion can change.”

Without taking any names, the CJI said, “There is some confusion in understanding the law. One person may have an opinion before being a part of the committee but his opinion can change. There is no way that such a member cannot be part of a committee.”

“Just because a person has expressed a view on the matter, that is not a disqualification to be a member of committee. Generally, there is a peculiar lack of comprehension about constitution of a committee. They are not judges,” he added.

The Supreme Court had on January 11 stayed the implementation of the three laws till further orders and appointed a four-member panel to resolve the impasse.

The committee comprised Mann, Dr Pramod Kumar Joshi, Director for South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute; Ashok Gulati, agricultural economist and former chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices; and Anil Ghanwat, president of Shetkari Sanghatana.

The Bharatiya Kisan Union (Lok Shakti) filed a plea before the top court, asking it to reconstitute the committee as Mann has recused himself and other members — Ashok Gulati, Pramod Kumar Joshi and Anil Ghanwat — have already taken positions in support of the farm laws.

After the preliminary meeting, Ghanwat told the media that the committee would try to function independent of the personal views of each member and work in the larger interests of the farmers in the country. He said the panel members will keep their personal views on farm laws aside while preparing report to be submitted to apex court. The committee will seek views of farmers, agri stakeholders besides central and state governments, Ghanwat said.

He also said the biggest challenge before the panel would be to convince farmers to speak and share their concerns. “We’ll make all possible efforts,” he said.

Ghanwat said the committee on Thursday would hold talks with farmers’ organisations which want to meet them in person. “Video conferencing will be held with those who can’t come to us,” Ghanwat said. “If the government wants to come and speak with us, we welcome it. We will hear the government too. The biggest challenge is to convince the agitating farmers to come and speak with us, we will try our level best,” he added.

Ghanwat said the committee would examine the three farm laws and draw up a list of stakeholders for consultations, including farm unions, representatives of agribusinesses, scholars, scientists and even the government. “Our basic terms of reference are to look into the laws and consult stakeholders with the objective of addressing grievances of farmers,” Ghanwat, who heads the Shetkari Sangathan, a farm organisation from Maharashtra that advocates pro-technology and pro-reform agricultural policies, had said.

The Samyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of farm unions leading protests against the laws, has however said its members would not appear before the committee. Farm unions have also said that all members were biased in favour of the farm laws and there was no meaning meeting the SC-appointed panel and that they would prefer to continue to hold talks with the government to reach a solution to their demand for the repeal of the three contentious farm laws and the government refusing.

Meanwhile, the 10th round of talks between the protesting farmers unions and the central government panel which was scheduled to be held on Tuesday was postponed by a day and would be held on Wednesday.

The agriculturists have been protesting against the Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act 2020, the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020.



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