Farmers can protest, but must come for talks: SC – The Hindu BusinessLine

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CJI suggests putting on hold contentious farm laws; Centre non-committal

The Supreme Court on Thursday said farmers have a constitutional right to continue with their “absolutely perfect” protest as long as their dissent against the three agricultural laws does not slip into violence. It also asked the government if it could keep the implementation of the contentious laws in abeyance, to which the government was non-committal.

The court, however, said the purpose of the protest will not be served if the farmers continue to sit without engaging in talks.

Setting up panel

The court reiterated its suggestion of forming an “impartial and independent committee” of experts in the field of agriculture to hear both farmers and the Centre on the laws.

“If their (farmers) protest has a purpose other than just to sit in protest, we are thinking of an independent committee before whom both sides can state their case while the protest goes on… The committee can give its opinion after hearing them. We expect the parties (farmers and government) to follow the committee’s opinion. Meanwhile, the protest will continue without causing violence or damage on both sides,” Bobde suggested.

The court cautioned the Centre against trying to “instigate” violence.

But Attorney-General KK Venugopal strongly objected to the farmers’ conduct. He said the farmers cannot corner the government into a ‘yes or no’ to their demand to repeal the laws. The government was ready for a clause-by-clause discussion on the laws.

Senior advocate P Chidambaram, appearing for Punjab, where most of the protesting farmers hail from, said the farmers actually want Parliament to discuss amendments to the three laws.

Bobde then asked Venugopal whether the government could give an assurance to keep the implementation of the farm laws in abeyance in order to facilitate talks. The top law officer was non-committal.

‘Farmers are adamant’

Instead, Venugopal said the “blockade will have to go”. “Discussions can be held with their leaders. The protesters are standing there cheek by jowl. Pandemic is spreading. When they go back to their villages, they will spread the disease like wildfire,” the AG said.

“You (government) have not obviously been successful with them so far… That maybe because they were adamant or you were…” Bobde responded.

The nearly an hour-long virtual court hearing remained inconclusive when the court found that many of the protesting farmer bodies were not present. The Bench asked the Centre to serve them notice.

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