Thursday 21 Jan 2021

When farmers' plight moved Apex court

| JANUARY 12, 2021, 12:23 AM IST

The sharp and critical observations of the Supreme Court on the ongoing agitation of farmers may appear to be against the will of the Parliament but have gone a long way to highlight the government’s failure to mediate and resolve the burning issue. "Put the laws on hold, or else we will do it, we do not want blood on our hands,” the words of CJI reflect a sense of empathy towards the distressed farmers. The underlying message was loud and clear that the government failed to feel their pulse, failed to engage stakeholders, and, more significantly, failed to convince with its argument that the laws will benefit farmers.

While expressing disappointment with the way the issue was handled, the court said it ran out of patience since eight rounds of talks yielded no results, clearly indicating that enough was not being done to defuse the crisis. In fact, the sympathetic view of the court was well reflected in the assurance that the concerns of the farmers will not go unheard.

It is sad in a free democracy that the plight of protesting citizens is overlooked and issues are muddied with inflated egos, political battles and vested interests. In this intense clash, no attention was paid to the impact the long-drawn protest had on the lives and livelihoods of common citizens. It was for the court to take cognizance of farmers committing suicides, of senior citizens, women and their kids braving extreme winter conditions and protesting out in the open.

This would be an epoch-making moment because the court had to look beyond parliamentary procedures and laws and view the issue through a more humane prism, and it will only strengthen the trust and belief of the common man in the judicial system. The court's decision to set up an independent expert panel to sit in scrutiny comes as a slap on the face of the Central government because it had earlier refused to refer the bills to a select committee.

The laws may be progressive in all the arguments put forth by the government, but the undue haste with which they were passed without even a full-fledged debate raises suspicion and questions. No matter how good the laws may sound, the hurried nature of pushing them without a clear mandate of stakeholders is against the fundamental norms of a free democracy. There should be pre-legislative consultations and a thorough clause-by-clause debate in the early stages before introducing them in the Parliament.

The questions that will now arise are whether the decision arrived by the court-appointed panel can do justice to the farmers without going into the aspect of repealing of laws. Could there be a resolution without tinkering with MSP or without considering the demand for repealing of laws? What happens to States which have already executed contracts based on new laws, should a change happen now? The court has spoken its mind, but while it puts its order on paper, there will be a lot of ground to cover for farmers to go home peaceful and content.


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