by BA and Venkatesh Sundaram
The country has witnessed an unprecedented agitation against the Farm Laws passed in September 2020 by the BJP led NDA Government. These were first promulgated as Ordinances and then passed through Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha with hardly any discussion and signed by the President. Even as the Ordinances were being put in place, there was a mass discontent against the content of the then Bills, and later against the manner in which they were rushed through Parliament. Using its brute majority the ruling parties simply brushed aside concerns even from their coalition partners and would not brook any discussion or opposition, either in letter or in spirit.
The farmers across the length and breadth of the country would not accept this tyrannical method of enacting new laws that would impact their lives and that of their families and descendants for generations to come. The nation then started to witness several rallies, first in Punjab and Haryana, and crowned by the congregations of hundreds of thousands of farmers at various points around the borders of Delhi, in the National Capital Region Area. Such undemocratic methods such as the closure of roads in the BJP ruled Haryana to the farmers were also see which would be a blot on the conscience of the country.
The Government is in no mood to tolerate any opposition and all talks so far have failed. Despite remarkable hardships farmers continue to besiege parts of the city and it is worthy of note that there have been incidents of violence and the farmers and their leaders have been exercising their democratic right to express their disagreement with the laws. This has led to an impasse with large sections of so-called `civil society’ wondering what next?
In an unprecedented and unexpected move the Supreme Court of its own accord passed an interim stay order on the laws. Although the Constitution essentially gives untrammelled powers to the Supreme Court, many constitutional lawyers and experts and scholars have considered this to be a judicial overreach, wondering what next. The reason offered for the stay was that it was to force the parties, namely the Government and the organisations representing the farmers to come to the negotiating table.
Nevertheless, it is not clear that the laws are illegal per se, or whether or not that laws violate any constitutional provisions, and hence it seems to be an act by the Supreme Court to somehow force the hand of the contending parties. The Supreme Court of its own accorded also appointed a four-member committee to resolve the deadlock. It is not clear what precisely are the terms of reference of this committee are and what its powers are, and whether its recommendations if any would be binding on one or both parties. It has also been noted by many that each of the four members has expressed support for the laws in the past, and so it is not clear whether their report would in any way assuage the concerns and fears and issues raised by the farmers. It also appears according to experts, that this intervention by the Supreme Court also stalls and stymies any further legal avenues that could have been pursued by the farmers and their organisations, thereby, in a sense, forcing them to abandon any juridical avenues to having their issues addressed.
Writing in the Indian Express in January 2021, the well-known intellectual Pratap Bhanu Mehta has expressed the opinion that action of the Supreme Court, among other things could break the social movement, whether or that was the intention of the stay order. Whereas scholars will debate the rights and wrongs of this event, the agitation of the farmers has not been whittled down by these events. This can be seen by the enthusiasm with which the farmers have prepared for and forced the authorities to give permission for, tractor rallies on Republic Day 2021.
At a time when the fervour amongst farmers is soaring and their resolve is high, it is unlikely that any such intervention by the judiciary and various Institutions of the State can assist in resolving the crisis. The farmers are correct in their claim that they were never consulted in the process of the passage of the laws, and that the dispute is between them and the Government. The farmers have also said that they do not see a major role for the judiciary in this dispute.
As we write, we are also informed about demonstrations by farmers of Maharashtra in Mumbai, of protests by farmers in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh etc, who are supporting the protests by the farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, UP and Bihar who are gathered at the protest sites around Delhi in the NCR. This also gives the lie to the claim of the Government that it is “only farmers from Punjab and Haryana who are protesting against the new Agricultural Laws”, which are in fact against the interests of farmers all over India.
The Government cannot just say that because it has the majority in Parliament it can do as it pleases. The Supreme Court and its four-member committee do not in any way represent the will of the millions of farmers that will be affected by the laws. The only way out is for the laws to be repealed and to go back to the drawing board and start to discuss afresh all the issues in front of the farmers, including those of Minimum Support Price and the APMC and that of farm loans and their waiver, the proposed Electricity Bill and all the other issues.