There cannot be protests by farmer unions when the validity of the farm laws is pending judicial consideration, the Supreme Court said on Friday, expressing its anguish over the manner in which the present stir by the farmer unions has “strangulated” Delhi by choking traffic on the Capital’s borders.
Expressing its angst in response to a petition by Kisan Mahapanchayat seeking permission to hold a peaceful protest against the farm laws at Jantar Mantar, the bench of justices AM Khanwilkar and CT Ravikumar said, “There is no question of holding protests when you have come to the courts.”
Lawyer Ajay Chaudhary, who represented the Mahapanchayat, told the court that Delhi Police granted permission to some 200 farmers of Samyukta Kisan Morcha to hold protests in the Capital in July this year, but denied them similar permission despite repeated requests.
The bench said, “You have strangulated the entire city and now you want to enter the city and hold protests.”
“You are freely and without fear holding protests. You block trains and highways, and you say your protest is peaceful. This business should stop. You are heckling security personnel and stopping businesspersons going for work. Have you considered if citizens are happy with this kind of protest?”
Chaudhary told the Court that Kisan Mahapanchayat is not part of the protesting farmer groups and is in favour of peaceful, non-violent mode of protest by staging a satyagraha. He also claimed that it was the police that are blocking highways, not farmers.
“You cannot isolate yourself from the protests,” the bench said. “You file an affidavit declaring that you are not part of the protests being carried out in blocking national highways at the borders leading to the Capital.” Based on this conditionality, the bench agreed to hear the matter next Monday and directed Chaudhary to supply a copy of the petition to the office of Attorney General and the Centre through the Central Agency office.
The Court was clear that protests and litigation cannot go hand in hand. “Once you have made up your mind to approach this court, have faith in us and trust in the system. How do you say we will still hold protests and satyagraha? The entire public transport system has been affected by your protests,” the justices observed.
Since November, farmers have been protesting three farm laws enacted last year, Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 and Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020.
The government says these will make it easier for farmers to sell their produce, and free them from the clutches of middlemen; farmers fear that the laws will simply replace middlemen with large companies and also crimp sales through the government channel.
The validity of the farm laws have been challenged in multiple petitions before the Supreme Court by MPs, farmer bodies and private individuals. Among those who have challenged the farm laws are MPs Tiruchi Siva from Tamil Nadu’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and Manoj Kumar Jha from Bihar’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), lawyer Manohar Lal Sharma, farmer unions, and individual farmers.
While the top court is yet to examine the validity of these laws, in January, it stayed their implementation and constituted an expert committee to hear the grievances of the farmers and address the same by suggesting suitable amendments to the law.
This committee submitted its report in a sealed cover in March. The matter has not come up for hearing since.
Kisan Mahapanchayat is a party to the proceedings pending in the top court. In addition, this union, through its president Rampal Jat , approached the Rajasthan High Court challenging the validity of the three farm laws where the matter is still under consideration.
The Mahapanchayat first requested the Delhi Police in March this year for permission to stage a protest at Jantar Mantar. This request was later renewed in April and June. On June 30, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, New Delhi refused permission citing Covid guidelines issued by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority.
On July 2, DDMA relaxed restriction following which the Mahapanchayat farmers, numbering 15, entered the Capital and sat on satyagraha on July 5. They were later detained by the police.
They renewed their request for continuing with their peaceful protest but received no response. On learning that the Delhi Police granted permission for protest to another farmer union on July 21, the Mahapanchayat moved the apex court on July 26 to allow space at Jantar Mantar for at least 200 farmers to hold a peaceful protest.
The petition relied on an order passed by the Supreme Court in December last year in the proceedings challenging the farm laws. The court then said: “The right to protest is a fundamental right and can, as a matter of fact, be exercised, subject to public order. There can certainly be no impediment in the exercise of such rights as long as it is non-violent and does not result in damage to the life and properties of other citizens and is in accordance with law.”
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