Apex Court Anguish

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The Centre must find a solution satisfying protesting farmers

Expressing disappointment over the way the farmers’ agitation was being handled, the Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre to put the controversial laws on hold or else the court would have to do it. The sharp remarks from the top court came while hearing the petitions challenging the farm laws and the farmer agitation at the Delhi borders. The court observed that the situation had gone from bad to worse since the last hearing, with deaths of more protesters reported. The farmers have been holding agitation for over a month and half and there appears to be no resolution in sight. The court felt the government had not dealt with the issue effectively. While the farmers have refused to climb down on their demand for the repeal of the three controversial farm laws at the centre of protests, the government has refused to do any rethink on the withdrawal of laws.

The ministers of the central government have made public statements asserting that the laws would not be withdrawn. The reason cited by them was that if farm laws passed by the two houses of Parliament were withdrawn there could be demands for repeal of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the law by which Article 370, under which Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed a special status, was abrogated. This shows that more than the farm laws, the central government was worried about the chain reaction it would set off among other parties just waiting for their chance to undo some laws that had been on BJP agenda for decades. The Supreme Court asked the central government whether any “prestige issue” was involved in withdrawing the laws. The answer, which the attorney general did not give, was that the central government was worried more about chain reaction than the abrogation of farm laws.

There are fears growing that the farmers’ agitation might turn violent. The Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde represented the nationwide anguish when he said, “Who is going to be responsible for bloodshed if there is any?” Farmers have committed suicide in favour of the cause, and old persons and women were sitting in protest at the peak of winter. Sending a strong message across to the central government on what is being seen as a delaying tactic by the government in dealing with the issues of the farmers, the top court remarked: “We don’t know if you are part of the solution or part of the problem.” It had an apprehension that someday there might be a breach of peace and “each one of us would be responsible if anything went wrong. We don’t want any injuries or blood on our hands.” After the apex court took up the matter, there was some progress in the talks between the central government and the farmers unions, but later the negotiations seemed to have turned into a ritual, just a way of keeping a semblance of the central government being serious about the issues when actually no solution was being arrived at.

With the farmers firmly declaring that the solution to their protests lay in repealing of the three laws and the top court also giving a virtual ultimatum that the Centre put the laws in abeyance, the central government would have no option but to keep the laws on hold and work for a solution in a transparent and sincere manner. Any attempt by the central government to force its will on the farmers could lead to unfortunate repercussions, including escalation of protest which could be pan-India. As far as the farmers’ right to protest is concerned, they have the support of the Supreme Court which said the protests could continue even when the laws are stayed but the farmers would have to decide whether they want to hold them at the same site or move elsewhere. “The right to protest is intact,” the court said. The farmers have been by and large peaceful. They have been protesting out in the open braving the freezing cold. Let us hope reason comes to prevail over the thinking of the central government and it finds a solution satisfactory to the farmers.