The Supreme Court on Monday pulled up the Centre for its alleged mishandling of talks with the farmers who are protesting the new farm laws indicating its intent to stay the implementation of the same.
"Either you say that you will stay the implementation of the laws, or we will do it," the top court told the Attorney General KK Venugopal on Monday. "Or at least hold it in abeyance…," it said.
"What's the ego here?" the court observed.
"We don't wish to make stray comments, but we are very disappointed with the way the Centre is dealing with this. We don't know what kind of consultation process was carried out for the farm laws that entire states are up in rebellion," the bench led by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said.
"We are not in favour of easily staying the legislation…we want to say don't implement the law. What is the problem? Since the last time (the last hearing was held on December 16, before the Supreme Court went on its winter break) you have not replied to us and the matter has gone on and on and the situation is getting worse and worse," CJI Bobde observed.
"People are committing suicide…People are suffering cold. What is this? Why are you not taking care of social distancing? We don't know if you are taking care of water, food? We don't understand why the farmers' protest have old people and women on the ground," CJI Bobde said. The top judge, however, insisted that the court was not commenting on the agitation and that it would not interfere in the farmers' right to protest.
"We are proposing to form a committee and if the government does not (stay the law) on its own, then we will stay the implementation of the laws," the top court said.
When farmer unions expressed their faith in the apex court, CJI Bobde replied faith or not, "We are the Supreme Court and we will do our job."
The top court was hearing pleas challenging the new farms laws that has seen intense protests by farmers since the past 48 days. Pleas seeking its stay, and its enactment were also heard along with pleas seeking the removal of the protestors at the borders of Delhi.
Petitions have challenged the three laws: Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance & Farm Services Act 2020, Farmers Produce Trade & Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Act & Amendment to Essential Commodities Act, on the grounds that they are illegal, arbitrary and unconstitutional.
Want to stay farm laws because you are not doing anything: SC to Centre
Expressing its disappointment with the Centre, the top court reiterated its proposal to form a committee led by a former SC judge to mediate between the farmers and the government.
"Since the last three-four times you are telling us that we are talking, we are negotiating. What negotiating? What talking? What is going on?" the top court told Venugopal who was representing the Centre. "We are not talking of repeal at the moment, the parties have placed the court in a very delicate situation... Our intention is to see if we can bring about an amicable resolution to this problem. That is why we asked you last time why don't you put the your own laws on hold, there's no reply to that, you are seeking more time for negotiation," CJI Bobde said.
"If there is some sense of responsibility which you show now, by saying that you do not intend to insist on the implementation of the laws, we will ask them (farmers) to negotiate seriously, and that's why we were saying last time we will create a committee for this…," CJI Bobde added. "…We will put the names of ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) members to look into this. Till then you can continue to put the law on hold. Why will you insist on continuing the law anyhow," the top judge said.
"We don't know if you are part of the solution or part of the problem?" the bench said expressing its disappointment. "There is not a single petition before us saying that the laws are beneficial," the court said in response to Solicitor General Tushar Mehta's submission that several farmers organisations have come forth and said the farm laws are progressive.
If the vast majority of the country feels that the laws are good, let them say it to the committee, the court added.
Expressing apprehension over the escalating situation of the protests at the borders, the court said: "Each one of us we will be responsible if anything goes wrong. We don't want any injuries or blood on our hands."
"We are not saying we know how to resolve every situation, we are only trying to break the tensions and make the atmosphere more conducive for negotiations. We are a constitutional court, who is going to be responsible if this sabre-rattling goes on," CJI Bobde said.
Court observations "harsh": Centre to SC
Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, vehemently opposed the top court's intention to stay the laws. Mehta argued that the Centre has done its best to resolve the situation and that the court's observation towards their efforts at an amicable resolution were "harsh".
Venugopal defended the Centre's position saying the laws were good and beneficial to the farmers. "In any of the petitions, not one of them have pointed out that there's anything unconstitutional in any one of the three farm acts," he added.
"A law cannot be stayed unless it's beyond legislative competence or violative of Fundamental rights of against any constitutional provision. Farm Laws are for their benefit," he said.
"Farmers from South India have not protested. Why? Because the laws are for their benefit. That is why we are asking them to understand the law. Haryana CM also wanted to meet the farmers but the entire set up of the meeting was destroyed. Press reporters were assaulted," Venugopal added.
Venugopal welcomed the formation of a committee but stressed against the stay on the implementation of the laws.
Failed resolution between farmers and government
More than one lakh farmers are protesting at the Delhi borders even as the eighth round of talks failed. The Centre ruled out repealing the law but asserted it was open to amendments. Venugopal requested to the court to pass off on issuing any orders staying the law till January 15 when another round of talks have been scheduled.
The court rose after hearing the matter for more than an hour and a half with the observation that it may pass a detailed order later today or tomorrow.
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