Committee’s composition questioned, farmers not participating

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The ‘Delhi Chalo’ farmers’ protest at border points of New Delhi entered the 50th day on Thursday as thousands of farmers, especially from Punjab and Haryana, continue to hold a sit-in protest demanding a complete rollback of the new farm laws which they have termed as “anti-farmer” and “exploitative”.  The protest started on November 26. As severe cold conditions continue in Delhi with the darkness of the pandemic still looming, and as more than 60 farmer deaths are reported, the Supreme Court in a move to break the deadlock between the farmers and the centre on Tuesday “stayed the implementation” of the farm laws until further notice.

This means all the three “anti-farm” laws – Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; the Farmers Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and farm Services Act 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 will remain suspended.  After several rounds of talks failed the government refused to repeal the laws and it refused to stay the implementation either following which the Supreme Court putting the centre on notice a day before its big move said “if the government does not, then we will”. The top court asserted that it has the power to suspend the contentious legislation to solve the problem and no power can prevent it from forming a committee to resolve the impasse on new farm laws.

The Supreme Court expressed dissatisfaction at the way negotiations with farmers have been held over the previous days. The Supreme Court said it had given the Centre “a long rope” already and since the centre could not resolve the crisis it would form a committee after staying implementation of farm laws.

The bench, headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde, has named four members for the committee while asking all parties in the case to also recommend names for the panel. The four members recommended by the apex court are agriculture economist Ashok Gulati, international policy head Dr Pramod Kumar Joshi, Shivkeri Sangathna’s Anil Dhanvat, and BKU’s president Bhupinder Singh Maan.

The four names suggested by the bench may be problematic as all of them have publicly supported the farm laws and their presence on a panel meant to end the ongoing conflict may not cut any ice with the agitating farmers. The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), a conglomerate of farmer unions representing those against the farm laws, has already made it clear that though it appreciates the concern of the SC, it will not participate in any committee hearings and will only speak to the government. The SKM is adamant that the three farm laws be repealed in full.

Meanwhile as farmers continue to occupy Delhi borders the Supreme Court was inclined to pass an order that all protestors be moved to one common site. Ramlila maidan or Boat club have been suggested. However, even after regular pleadings to stop farmers from holding protests the Supreme Court has observed that the farmers’ right to protest was a fundamental right and citing Gandhiji’s “satyagrah” saying that was a much bigger agitation the Court refused to interfere in farmers’ right.

The court said the first sitting of the committee, formed to listen to the grievances of farmers and views of the government, should be held within 10 days and the committee should submit a report in two months and that all should follow the committee’s recommendations.

However, at this stage farmers appeared disinclined to become part of any committee as they want no less than a full repeal of the farm laws. Others have questioned the composition of the committee saying “independent” persons should have been appointed.

The farmers’ unions have proposed to take out a tractor rally on 26th January.

 

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