The Indian Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a stay on implementation of the new agricultural reform laws that have seen continuous protests by farmers at New Delhi’s highways since November. The order was made in the proceedings of a batch of civil writ petitions dubbed Rakesh Vaishnav & Ors. v Union of India challenging the constitutional validity of the three farm laws as well as the validity of the protests by the farmers against these laws.
The three laws that have been stayed are the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020.
The court noted that although the farmers have carried on peaceful protests until now, all rounds of negotiations with the government of India have failed to produce a solution. There are many senior citizens and children at the protest sites who are exposed to serious health hazards due to the coronavirus and the harsh winter. There have also been some deaths due to illness and suicide.
In light of the situation on the ground and repeated failure of negotiation, the court decided to stay the implementation of the laws and form a committee of agricultural experts to negotiate between the farmers’ organizations and the government. It further said that staying implementation of the laws “may assuage the hurt feelings of the farmers and encourage them to come to the negotiating table with confidence and good faith.”
With respect to apprehensions on the abolition of guaranteed minimum support price (MSP), the court noted that the existing MSP system will continue and that the government’s Solicitor General given his assurances of in-built safeguards within the new laws to protect the farmers’ lands.
The expert committee shall comprise Bhupinder Singh Mann (the National President of Bhartiya Kisan Union and All India Kisan Coordination Committee), Dr. Pramod Kumar Joshi (agricultural economist), Ashok Gulati (agricultural economist and former chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices) and Anil Ghanwant (president of Shetkari Sanghatana).
The first sitting of the committee will be held within ten days from the date of the order and the committee shall submit a report with recommendations within two months of its first sitting. Representatives of all the farmers’ bodies are directed to make their representations to the committee, irrespective of whether they favour or oppose the laws.
Although the court’s order notes that the farmers’ bodies are amenable to proceedings before the committee, the Sankyukt Kisan Morcha has stated that it does not wish to participate in any committee proceedings as they want a complete repeal of the laws instead of not mere changes. They noted that previous talks with the government over submitting before a committee had also failed. Thus they have said that although a formal decision on participation before the court-appointed committee is yet to be made, the protests by the farmers will continue. The Morcha comprises nearly 40 protesting farmers’ unions and their decision is expected to have a significant impact on the success of the court-appointed committee.