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Sunday, March 3, 2024

SC refuses to hear yet another plea against killer ‘farmer’ protests!

The Supreme Court has refused to hear a plea filed by residents of Sonipat, Haryana who are facing difficulties due to the Singhu border being blocked by protestors opposed to the center’s farm reforms. SC asked the citizens to approach the Punjab and Haryana High Court for relief.

This is not the first time the SC has refused to hear citizen’s petitions against these lawless protests which have held the residents of Delhi’s border areas hostage for over 9 months now.

The SC had an opportunity to nip things in the bud, but back in December it said that the agitations should be allowed to continue without any impediment adding that the court will not “interfere” with it as the “right to protest” is a fundamental right. This, despite the same SC’s ruling in October last year when it said “protests must take place only in designated places” and that Shaheen Bagh like protests at public places cannot be allowed for an indefinite period!

Right from the outset, it was clear that the anti-farm law protests had been majorly infiltrated by hard-core Khalistani separatists – there were death chants for PM Modi, and threats to emulate Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

The SC tried hard to appease the protest leaders, ordering the government to put the new laws on hold and appointing an expert committee to negotiate with the protestors. But even this olive branch was contemptuously turned down by the protest leaders, who have stuck to their obstinate demand of complete revocation of the 3 new farm laws and have even asked for new legislation assuring them of MSP for all crops!

Then things descended into complete anarchy on 26 January, Bharat’s Republic Day, when lumpen elements clashed with police and stormed into the iconic Red Fort to raise a Sikh religious flag.

But even this was not disturbing enough for the SC to crack down on protestors. It refused to entertain a bunch of petitions demanding an investigation into the tractor rally violence in the national capital on Republic Day, and was more worried about negative portrayal of the protestors in media as a result of the violence which shocked the nation! The SC bench of then Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian asked the petitioners to approach the government with their pleas and make representation there.

These protests sites like Singhu and Tikri border have become a hub of immoral and illegal activities – from prostitution, to drug and alcohol consumption – and have witnessed rapes and murders too. All this, besides the massive inconvenience caused to thousands of ordinary citizens living in the area, who find their main thoroughfares blocked.

What is worse, even when the entire nation was reeling from the Covid second wave during April-May, and courts across the nation were castigating the Government, the judiciary did not see it fit to order that these protests be wrapped up or moved to designated centers only like Ram Lila ground. By late April, there was incontrovertible scientific evidence about how the dangerous UK variant (B.1.1.7) of the coronavirus was spread by farmer protests and other super-spreader events that originated in Punjab. The protests then amplified transmission of the variant in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana.

SC advocate Shashank Shekhar Jha, who filed a petition in SC in March requesting that these never-ending protests be cleared, shared that he is still awaiting a date for the hearing!

Finally, on August 23, the SC did hold a hearing on the issue, almost 5 months after the top court had issued notice to Uttar Pradesh and Haryana on March 26 over a plea by petitioner Monica Agrawal, a Noida resident. And the Supreme Court promptly lobbed the ball back to the central and state governments!

It said the central government and Delhi’s neighbouring states should find a solution to road blocks on the national capital’s borders due to the ongoing farmers’ protest. A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hrishikesh Mukherjee told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, “What is happening Mr Mehta. Why can’t you find a solution?…Union of India and the concerned state governments have to coordinate to find a solution that when a protest takes place, roads are not blocked and traffic is not disrupted to cause inconvenience to the common people.”

But when Mehta said that if the court is willing to pass some orders then two farmers unions can be made parties, the bench evaded this solution saying that tomorrow another two unions could come forward claiming they represent the farmers! The brief hearing ended with the matter posted next for September 20.

Meanwhile, on August 28 the Haryana government did try to find a solution. Haryana police decided to clear protestors who had illegally blocked the toll plaza on a national highway, and had violated Section 141 or CrPc. In the ensuing clash some protestors and 24 policemen were injured. This kind of violence is exactly what the protestors have been looking to instigate, and a plea seeking a judicial probe of the ‘police violence’ quickly made its way to the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The HC has now demanded a reply from the Haryana government.

So this is the Catch-22 situation facing states affected by these lawless protests – try to clear them by force and risk censure by the very same judiciary and media that is demanding that the government find a ‘solution’ to resolve the protests. Any decisive action also carries immense political risk, as propaganda about even one so-called farmer getting injured will spread far and wide, irrespective of how many policemen are injured.

Common citizens should either get used to this ‘cost of being a democracy’ imposed by our secular republic, or demand fundamental reforms.

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