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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

SC directs setting up new committee to resolve farmers’ protest, asks “Who prevented farmers to come to Delhi?”

Faced with a bunch of petitions seeking a direction to authorities to immediately remove the farmers who are protesting at several border points of Delhi against the three new farm laws, a Supreme Court bench led by CJI AS Bobde called the petitions ‘ill-conceived’ and appeared to put the blame at the Government’s door, as per live updates from legal site livelaw.in.

Hinting at lack of faith in the government’s ability to resolve the issue, the SC bench told Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta that it intends to set up a committee comprising representatives of farmers unions across Bharat, Govt. and other stakeholders to resolve this issue, adding “because this will soon become a national issue and with Government it won’t work out it seems.”

The CJI stated, “Mr. SG, we see that the petitions are ill-conceived and there are no legal issues before us. The only party before us who has blocked the road is you….Who has prevented farmers to come to Delhi?”

To this the SG responded, “The farmers are protesting and roads have been blocked by Delhi Police…this is a law and order situation your lordship.”

When a counsel appearing for the petitioners compared the illegal Shaheen Bagh sit-in (which was finally cleared after 3 months, post the anti-Hindu Delhi riots) with the farmers’ protest on Delhi’s borders, the CJI said, “How many people had blocked the road there ? Will the number of people not determine this? Who will take responsibility? There can be no precedent in law and order situation.”

At one point, the bench admitted that the protest was confined to farmers from Punjab and Haryana.

Adv. Rahul Mehta, representing Government of Delhi, passing the buck to the Union Government said, “If they (union govt) agree to demands then they (farmers) will stop. There has been no representation made to NCT of Delhi. Something should be done immediately. Your lords.”

The Bench directed the SGI to form a committee comprising of the members of Government and members of all the farmers associations of Bharat to engage in talks and come to an ‘amicable solution’.

The bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde, Justice AS Bopanna and Justice V Ramasubramanian also granted permission to implead farmer organisations and listed the matter to be heard in the Supreme Court tomorrow.

Shaheen Bagh redux

It is pertinent to remember that after a busy public thoroughfare was encroached and blocked in Shaheen Bagh, Delhi by anti-CAA protestors inconveniencing lakhs of commuters, including school children, an activist first approached Delhi High Court pleading that the Shaheen Bagh protest site be cleared.

But the HC quashed the petition without stating any reasons and passed the buck to police & authorities. The activist then approached Supreme Court. The 2-judge SC bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph while admitting that protesters can’t block a public road and create inconvenience to others, went ahead and appointed ‘mediators’ to hold ‘consultations’ with the agitators.

It was only in October, 6 months after the Shaheen Bagh protestors had dispersed, that the SC came down heavily with a ruling that Shaheen Bagh like protests at public places cannot be allowed for an indefinite period, and that protests must take place only in designated places.

Jantar Mantar and Ramlila ground are the designated protest sites in Delhi, which both Shaheen Bagh and the farmer protestors have refused to use. In the case of the farmer protests, they also refused to move to a Nirankari ground in Burari or stadiums which administration offered for their protests.

However, the SC is not applying its own October ruling in the matter of the farmers’ protest. Instead, it seems to be getting involved in administrative functions by asking for creation of a committee, a move that some legal observers have called an example of judicial overreach.

The bottomline is that certain vested groups appear to enjoy more liberties in the Constitutional and legal scheme of things. Ordinary citizens of the national capital should get used to being held hostage by these special interest groups, as both government and courts seem hesitant to apply the law of the land equally.

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