COURT AND FARMERS

There’s something unusual about the way the Supreme Court intervened in the seven-weeks-old farmer agitation seeking repeal of three laws that the central government has got cleared via Parliament. A division bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde has stayed implementation of the laws. A region-specific agitation by itself may not be sufficient reason for a court to stop implementation of a new law for the entire nation; more importantly, a long-awaited reform measure. A court can find fault with provisions in the law, but no fault as such has been cited while a batch of writ petitions challenge the constitutional validity of the laws. The court has set up a four-member panel to hold discussions with farmers and report to it so as to help it “mediate”.

Two aspects cannot escape attention. One, the Congress party says this is a kind of hoodwinking and would only be of help to the government, as three of the four members in the panel are in “favour of the reforms”. Farmers’ unions themselves have not been enthused by the apex court’s move. Two, the government introduced a twist by telling the court that Islamists as also Khalistani and Maoist moles have infiltrated the agitation. The court has rightly asked the attorney general to not talk in the air and instead produce proof.

The farmers’ agitation since November 26 has affected life in the national capital and beyond due to the blockade they enforced in the border regions. Worse, the massing up of protesters over long periods at specific sites is a prescription for further spread of the Covid pandemic. This happens at a time when a new strain from the UK that can spread faster has reached Delhi. If the apex court could contribute to efforts at solving the issues raised by farmers, it would be of common good. Yet, issues as to how far the apex court can stretch its authority remains to be addressed. In a democratic set-up, the job of the executive and judiciary are well-demarcated.

The government, on its part, has said it is addressing issues raised by farmers by way of introducing amendments to the three laws in the next session of Parliament but is firm that the laws will not be repealed. Good sense must prevail on the part of farmers and the government so as to see an end to the agitation sooner than later. Reforms in the farm sector are a matter of urgency as lots of issues in the agriculture sector remain unresolved for long.

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