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The government is right to be lukewarm towards a Supreme Court suggestion to set up a court-mandated negotiation committee of representatives of farmer unions, the government and independent experts to resolve the stand-off over the three new farm laws. Noble the court’s intentions might be, but it would be a mistake to set up a court-mandated committee to deal with protests against policy. The court’s job is to provide clarity on matters of legal propriety, to separate out and assert the constitutionally sanctified principle that lies tangled in a knotty mess of fact, habit and vested interests, not to run the country. For that, the people have elected a government.
The court should enjoy its vacation, not step into the executive’s shoes. Suppose the committee is formed and recommends open-ended procurement at the minimum support price; suppose, further, that the government accepts it, only to see a rubber farmer from Kerala or a rice grower from Bihar move the court, relying on the rights to equality and non-discrimination, to demand equal per-capita outlays of central resources entailed by open-ended procurement in Punjab on Kerala’s and Bihar’s farmers, can the court reject that demand? Will it then advise the government on how to raise the additional resources needed to meet such claims of equity or to slash expenditure somewhere else? Governance is a series of interconnected cost-benefit calculations that cumulatively maximise the common good, constrained by the resources at hand; singling out and stretching one link in that chain can snap the whole thing.
The government has made two crucial concessions to the farmers: agreed to remove the ridiculous bar on judicial redress for disputes under the laws, and, more dubiously, to convert alternate markets into regulated markets attracting tax. Farmers are the ones to be rigid. The court should turn its attention to the kind of issues that it alone can resolve, as in upholding liberty and rights against State arbitrariness in the instance cited in the editorial below.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.