Farmers' protest: SC refuses to step in on Republic Day tractor rally
The Supreme Court on Monday refused to “strengthen the hands” of the Centre in stopping a proposed Republic Day tractor rally in Delhi by farmers protesting against three contentious agricultural laws, and asked why the government was seeking its nod on a law-and-order issue.
Declining to pass any order on a plea by Delhi Police, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde said it was not for the court to remind the authorities of their policing power by passing an order.
“Does the Union of India need Supreme Court to tell what powers it has under the Police Act? Why do you want us to tell what powers you have?” the bench asked Attorney General KK Venugopal, who implored the court to issue a prohibitory order on Delhi Police’s application to injunct farmers’ groups from “disrupting” Republic Day celebrations by taking out a tractor rally or any other processions on January 26.
Venugopal, who represented the Centre, said it was an extraordinary situation, adding “one word from this court will strengthen the hands of the government”. The bench remained unmoved. “Does the Supreme Court say as to what are the powers of police and how they will exercise them? We are not going to tell you what to do. All that we can tell you is that you can invoke all your powers under the law to maintain law and order. This is your job.”
The bench also comprised Justices L Nageswara Rao and Vineet Saran.
It further observed: “We cannot come across an instance where first the court issued an order prohibiting (protests) and then the authorities said something. It is always the other way round. We have told you earlier too that we cannot be the first authority to determine this. You have enough power under the Police Act to determine who should or should not be allowed entry, what terms and conditions are to be enforced, and what should be the numbers.”
At this, Venugopal said that the government was seeking for an order on this issue since the apex court has taken the charge of the matter. The bench, however, retorted: “No, no. We have not taken charge of this matter at all. We have dealt with only one issue. The intervention of this court has been grossly misunderstood. We have not taken charge of the entire issue except one. And we will hear that issue sometime later.” The AG endeavoured to persuade the court, but it made its position clear: “We are not going to tell you what is your power. Why should we tell you what you should do?” The bench then clarified that it would focus chiefly on the issues relating to farm laws, and adjourned the matter for a hearing on Wednesday before the same combination of judges, who, on January 12, stayed the implementation of the three laws and formed a four-member committee to discuss the legislation with both farmers and the government.
Apart from the CJI, justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, comprised that bench.
The bench asked all lawyers to be present on Wednesday when it may take a call on filling up the vacancy in its panel, created by the recusal by one of the members — farm leader Bhupinder Singh Mann — last week. The committee is left with three members — agricultural economists Pramod Kumar Joshi and Ashok Gulati, and Anil Ghanwat, president, Shetkari Sanghatana. The members are scheduled to meet for the first time on Tuesday, though farm unions have said they will not negotiate with the committee. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing Delhi police, told the court that when the matter is taken up on Wednesday, the Centre would make detailed arguments on the dignity attached to the constitutional ceremony of Republic Day parade. “But what can be a constitutional question about a parade?” shot back the CJI.
The unions are planning a rally on January 26 comprising tens of thousands of farmers to push for the repeal of the three laws. The proposed route covers a 60km stretch and passes through Delhi’s Outer Ring Road, covering areas as Peeragarhi, Janakpuri and Munirka. The unions say their march will commence only after the official military parade on Rajpath ends.
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