NEW DELHI, Dec 16: The Supreme Court on has stepped in the 22-day old agitation by the farmers with thousands of them squatting on the borders of Delhi demanding the repeal of the three contentious farm laws enacted by the Narendra Modi government in September.
Noting that the Centre’s negotiations with farmers has so far failed to yield any results, the apex court on Wednesday suggested that it could set up a committee to work out a solution between the two sides.
Hearing a batch of petitions seeking removal of farmers protesting near Delhi borders, a bench of Chief Justice of India S A Bobde and Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian issued a notice to the Centre and posted the matter for hearing on Thursday.
The court said the proposed committee would comprise of the nominees of the government and farmers’ unions across the country to resolve the deadlock over the farm laws.
“Your negotiations with protesting farmers have not worked apparently till now,” the apex court said, adding that the protesting farmer unions should be made a party to the case. So far, the government and farmer union leaders have held five rounds of talks without much headway.
The central government has welcomed the apex court’s move and the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the bench that the government would not do anything against the interest of farmers.
The plea was filed by one Rishabh Sharma, a law student, who contended that “because of the ongoing protest at the Delhi borders, the roads have been blocked by the protesters and closed border points, which have affected vehicular traffic and people who are traveling to and from Delhi to get medical treatment in reputed government/private hospitals situated in Delhi are also affected.”
The plea said the protesters were “blocking the roads for all the emergency/medical services” required in the national capital for those affected by the virus. The petition also marked a copy of the apex court’s recent order in the Delhi Shaheen Bagh protest case stating that the public roads should not be blocked indefinitely for staging protests.
The farmers have expressed apprehension that these laws would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price system leaving them at the “mercy” of big corporates. The government has maintained that the new laws would bring farmers better opportunities.
On Wednesday, the farmer unions sent a written reply to the government rejecting its 20-page proposal sent on December 9 in which it offered significant concessions. An Agriculture Ministry official confirmed the government having received the farmers’ response to the proposal.
As the stalemate at the Delhi borders continued, the police confirmed that the farmers’ protests had gathered more momentum with even the Chilla border in Noida, which was opened a couple of days ago after the Uttar Pradesh farmers met the defence minister Rajnath Singh, was again closed down on Wednesday. The Delhi Traffic Police also said multiple border points connecting the national capital with its neighbouring states including Tikri and Dhansa borders were closed for any traffic movement as the agitation is intensifying day by day.
“Tikri, Dhansa Borders are closed for any Traffic Movement. Jhatikara Borders is open only for two wheelers and pedestrian movement,” the Delhi Traffic Police updated commuters on Twitter.
Only single carriageway was open at the Jharoda border with Haryana, the police said adding that Daurala, Kapashera, Badusarai, Rajokri NH 8, Bijwasan/Bajghera, Palam Vihar and Dundahera were other border points which were open for traffic with the neighbouring state of Delhi.
The farmers have been protesting against the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of 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. These laws were passed by the Parliament in September.
While the central government on many occasions has assured that these laws would eliminate middlemen and allow farmers to sell their produce in commercial markets, farmers fear the laws will allow big corporates to enter the agricultural sector and further end the system of minimum support price (MSP).
The farmers’ protest dharna on the borders of Delhi also reportedly had its echo in the talks the visiting British foreign secretary Dominic Raab held with external affairs minister S Jaishankar. “Agricultural reforms are India’s internal matter but the protests here are part of British politics too,” Raab reportedly told Jaishankar when he “discussed” the ongoing farmers’ protests at Delhi with him. The external affairs ministry in its press briefing, however, did not broach the farmers’ issue.
Raab, who also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday, said the U.K. respected India’s “heritage” of protests and debates, and was watching the situation closely.
“We [UK government] respect the fact that the reforms going through [the Indian] system here are domestic reforms,” he told a section of the Indian media in response to a question whether the protests had come up in bilateral talks in Delhi.
“Your [Indian] politics is in some sense, because of the Indian diaspora in Britain, our [U.K.’s] politics,” Raab emphasised in an interaction with journalists. India had a “vibrant heritage of peaceful protests and vigorous debate”, which the UK has “watched…with interest”, he observed.
Meanwhile, the Shiv Sena MP and a senior party leader Sanjay Raut favouring an immediate dialogue with the protesting farmers said the issues raised by agitating farmers could be solved in five minutes if the prime minister personally stepped in.
Expressing regrets at the centre stretching the farmers’ agitations thus far, Raut said the NDA government should have a dialogue with the farmers immediately. “The government can solve the issue in 30 minutes sitting with the (agitating) farmers if it wants…I think the issue will be solved in five minutes if the prime minister himself intervenes,” he told the media.
The Sena leader said the protesters are India’s own farmers and the government had unnecessarily stretched the issue this far that paves way for new anarchy.