Farm laws: SC irked over criticism of court-appointed committee members
Faced with criticism over the appointment of a four-member committee to hear farmers’ point of view on the validity of farm laws, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said there was no question of bias as the committee has not been given any adjudicatory powers.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde was hearing an application moved by Bhartiya Kisan Party that demanded filling up of a vacancy in the committee due to the resignation of member Bhupinder Singh Mann. Advocate Ajay Chaudhary, representing this farmers’ union, argued that there was apprehension among the farmers based on the other members’ opinions in favour of the laws as reported in newspapers.
The bench, also comprising justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, issued a notice to the Centre on the application and said, “You can’t brand people like this and cast aspersions on Court.. . .We have serious objections on people whom we have appointed being called names and that this Court has interest in selecting them. We will decide on Constitutionality of the laws but we will not expose the members whom we appointed to such maligning based on public opinion decided by majority. “
Chaudhary pointed out news clippings where committee members openly expressed their view in favour of the three 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.
“Where is the question of bias when the Committee is not given any power to adjudicate. We have asked them to hear the grievances of farmers and give us a report.”
Regarding Mann, the court said he had sought modifications to the farm laws.
“You unthinkingly cast aspersions on people because they have expressed some opinion in the past and you think they are disqualified to sit in the Committee. This has become a culture of branding people whom you do not want and criticising them. The reputation of people we appointed has been torn to shreds. Public opinion is important but it is not determinative for the Court to decide.”
The CJI said that the only interest of the court was to find a solution to the dispute and that’s why the Supreme Court on January 12 formed a committee of four experts. Mann resigned from the committee, leaving three others— Pramod Kumar Joshi, Ashok Gulati and Anil Ghanwat of Shetkeri Sangathana.
“They are the most brilliant minds in the field of agriculture. Do you think they don’t understand the subject. Even the best of judges have given an opinion but have later delivered judgment taking an opposite view,” said the bench.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan informed the court that the eight farmer unions he represented did not wish to appear before the committee. “We are convinced that these laws need to be repealed. We don’t want to discuss amendments. The unions are proposing a tractor rally on January 26 to peacefully protest.”
The bench asked Bhushan about his absence on January 12 when it constituted the committee after taking consent of the farmers’ unions. It added that it was not its mandate to force the unions to go before the committee but asked Bhushan to counsel his clients to stop agitating and ensure Delhi citizens of complete peace.
“In democracy, other than repeal, the power to set aside a law lies with the Court. We are seized of it. But we request you to stop the agitation,” the bench said.
Attorney General KK Venugopal informed the court that 5,000 tractors are sought to be brought in that day. In this connection, even an application by Delhi Police was pending before Court seeking an injunction against holding of a tractor rally.
The Supreme Court said, “These are matters purely in the domain of the executive. We consider it highly irregular and improper to disallow any rally or procession. It is for police to grant permission. You are the executive of the country. You are free to take any action.”
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta requested the court to keep the matter pending till January 25 in view of the situation’s development. The bench refused and asked police to withdraw its application.
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