Tribune News Service
New Delhi, October 4
A day after eight people were killed in Lakhimpur in Uttar Pradesh, the Supreme Court on Monday questioned the rationale behind farmers’ protest against the three farm laws, saying it had already stayed the laws in question.
“We have stayed the farm laws. There is nothing to be implemented. What are the farmers’ protesting about? No one other than the court can decide the validity of the farm laws. When that is so, and when farmers are in court challenging the laws, why protest on street?” a Bench led by Justice AM Khanwilkar wondered.
“When you have already filed a petition before a court challenging the Acts or action of the Executive, how can you then protest? Who are you protesting against? How can the Executive allow these protests? What is the validity of these protests?” the top court asked the farmer unions.
The Bench was hearing a petition filed by Kisan Mahapanchayat seeking directions to the Centre, Delhi Lt. Governor and Delhi Police Commissioner to allow it to stage ‘satyagraha’ at Jantar Mantar in the national capital. “We are on principle, once you go to court and challenge an Executive action, how can the same party say that matter is before court, nevertheless I will still protest?” noted the Bench which had on October 1 pulled up farmers’ unions for blocking of roads even after approaching the top court and had reminded them that citizens had equal rights to move freely without fear.
While ordering transfer of petitions against farm laws pending in Rajasthan High Court, the Bench asked the Centre to respond to it and posted the matter for further hearing on October 21.
The top court will also examine whether right to protest is an absolute right and whether farmers can continue to exercise their right to protest when the petitions challenging the validity of the three farm laws are already pending before it.
As Attorney General KK Venugopal mentioned that an unfortunate incident” happened at Lakhimpur on Sunday, Justice Khanwilkar said, “Nobody takes responsibility when such events happen.”
“Once matter is subjudice how will protest go on on same issue?” the Bench noted after Venugopal said that a large other petitions had also been filed.
“Once matter is before highest constitutional court, no one should be on roads,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said.
The counsel for petitioner Kisan Mahapanchayat said the farmers’ body has challenged the farm laws on constitutional grounds.
“It’s still intriguing, there’s no Act in place… at moment the Act is stayed by court… The government has assured they won’t give effect to it. The protest is for what? We will transfer your petition here itself and hear it. You’ve asserted you’ve challenged validity of Acts… we will decide the validity first, where’s question of protest?… What’s the point in protesting at Jantar Mantar?” it wondered.
As the farmers’ body counsel said they have challenged the farm laws, the Bench said, ” Then you come to law. You can’t do both — challenge a law and then go on to protest. Either you come to court or go to Parliament or go to roads….”
Amid protests against the three farm laws by farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Western UP, the top court had on January 12 this year stayed the implementation of the Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance & Farm Services Act 2020, Farmers Produce Trade & Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Act & Amendment to Essential Commodities Act.
It had constituted a four-member panel comprising Pramod Kumar Joshi (Director South Asia international Food Policy), Shetkari Sanghatana President Anil Ghanwat and agriculture-economist and former Chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) Ashok Gulati to hear the various stakeholders’ views on and report back to it. The fourth panel member Bhartiya Kisan Union President Bhupinder Singh Mann had recused himself. The panel submitted its report to the court in March.
At the outset of the hearing on Monday, Kisan Mahapanchayat counsel Ajay Choudhary said the petitioner has filed an affidavit to the effect that the farmers’ body wasn’t involved in blockades and that they had parted ways from other farmer unions after the January 26 violence.
During the hearing, the Bench repeatedly said once a party approached the court challenging validity of an Act, there was no question of holding protest.
“Your Lordships is right. You can’t go to two houses at same time. He has chosen his forum (top court),” the Attorney General said. The farmers protesting against farm laws had received a rap on the knuckles on October 1 from the Supreme Court which questioned the rationale behind blocking of roads even after approaching the judiciary and reminded them that citizens have equal rights to move freely without fear.
“You have strangulated the entire city, now you want to come inside the city and start protesting again here… The residents around.. are they happy with the protest? This business should stop. You are obstructing security and defence personnel. This was in the media. All this should stop…There has to be a balanced approach,” it had told the counsel for ‘Kisan Mahapanchayat’.
“There is no point in protest once you come to the court challenging the laws”, the told the farmers’ body during hearing on its petition seeking permission to stage ‘satyagraha’ at Jantar Mantar in the national capital. “Are you protesting against the judicial system? Once you have approached the judicial system, have faith in the court. You pursue that matter for urgent hearing instead of protesting again,” the Bench had told the counsel for Kisan Mahapanchayat who said the farmers’ body did have faith in the court.
The petitioner had denied blocking roads and had sought to shift the blame on the police. On September 30, another Bench led by Justice SK Kaul had wondered how highways can be blocked perpetually. “The redressal of problems can be through judicial forum, agitation or through parliamentary debates. But how can the highways be blocked and this is happening perpetually. Where does this end?” it had asked and said it’s the duty of the executive to implement the law laid down by it.
Maintaining that farmers had the right to protest, the top court had emphasised that citizens also enjoyed equal right to move freely and without fear. “Their (citizens’) properties are being damaged. Do you take permission from the residents around whether they are happy with your protest… This coaxing business should stop,” it said. Citing media reports, the Bench had pointed out that even security personnel were obstructed, stopped and heckled during the protests.