SC Won’t Pass Orders on Farmers’ Tractor Rally, Defends Committee
The CJI said that members of the committee are not Judges, and they may very well change their opinions.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday, 20 January, allowed the central government to withdraw their plea asking the court for directions against the proposed tractor rally by protesting farmers on Republic Day, after Chief Justice of India SA Bobde reiterated that this was not something within their purview.
“It is highly inappropriate for the court to act as first authority to allow or disallow protesters,” the CJI said during the hearing, noting that this was a law and order question, which the executive and the police had the power to look into.
The judges rejected Solicitor General Tushar Mehta’s plea for the matter to be taken up again on 25 January to see how things developed.
The CJI also said they trusted the statement by advocate Prashant Bhushan (who along with three other senior lawyers represents 8 of the protesting farmer unions) that the tractor rally would be peaceful.
Bhushan assured the court that the rally was meant to take place on the outer ring road and celebrate Republic Day, and that the farmers had issued a call for “absolute peace”.
When Attorney General KK Venugopal expressed his apprehension about this, given 5,000 tractors were supposed to be involved, the CJI said this was a matter for the executive to take up with the farmers, not the court.
The matter was then adjourned.
The Question of the SC’s Expert Committee
During the hearing, the court also issued notice on an application asking for a reconstitution of the expert committee it had constituted on 12 January to hear farmers’ grievances against the Centre’s controversial farm laws.
The Supreme Court had on 12 January stayed the implementation of the three controversial farm laws and appointed a four-member panel to hear from all stakeholders, and submit a report to the court within two months.
The composition of the committee came in for strong criticism as all four members – Ashok Gulati, Bhupinder Singh Mann, Anil Ghanwat and PK Joshi – had spoken or written in support of the new laws. BS Mann, President of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, recused himself from the committee soon after, saying he needed to support the farmers.
The Bharatiya Kisan Union (Lok Shakti) then filed a plea before the SC seeking reconstitution of the committee as Mann had recused himself and other members were known for taking positions in support of the controversial farm laws.
On Tuesday, the CJI had made oral observations criticising the request while hearing a separate matter, though he clarified that the court was not taking any action about that plea.
“How is this a disqualification? Just because a person has expressed a view on the matter, that is not a disqualification to be a member of committee. Generally, there is a peculiar lack of comprehension about the constitution of a committee. They are not judges.”CJI Bobde, according to Bar and Bench
On Wednesday, the court agreed to issue notice on another application asking for reconstitution of the expert committee by the Kisan Mahapanchayat, an organisation of farmers based in Rajasthan, given the vacancy that had opened up with Mann’s recusal.
However, during the hearing, the court once again reiterated its disagreement with the criticism of the committee composition just because these members had expressed a particular view in the past, and expressed “serious reservations” on aspersions being cast on members of the committee in the press.
“They are the best in agriculture today. But you just malign them for some opinion expressed in the past. The court appoints someone and you shred their reputation. Every lawyer, every judge has expressed some view in the past and has a different opinion now,” the CJI said. He said that people of integrity change their opinions after hearing a contradictory point of view.
The CJI once again stated that the committee members themselves would have no adjudicatory powers and would only assist the court.
Senior advocate Harish Salve, representing one of the petitioners asking for removal of the protesting farmers, said he would move contempt proceedings if further aspersions were cast on the committee, according to Live Law.
The court recorded submissions by Bhushan and senior advocate Dushyant Dave that the unions represented by them did not want to hear before the SC’s committee and hence would not be making any arguments about reconstitution of the committee.
Bhushan explained to the court that the farmers were totally convinced that the farm laws must be repealed given the lack of consultation and the voting fiasco in the rajya Sabha, and so they weren’t interested in discussing amendments. He also explained that the farmers were concerned that their protests had put pressure on the government in a democratic manner, and that the farmers were worried that if they left, tis pressure will go away if they wait for the court’s eventual determination only.
(With inputs from Bar and Bench.)
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