Supreme Court-appointed panel submits report on farm laws

At the heart of the dispute are the three farm laws — Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 and Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020

The three-member expert committee formed by the Supreme Court to study the three farm laws passed by the Parliament and recommend changes has submitted its report to the apex court in a sealed cover. The court, which is currently closed due to Holi recess, is expected to take up the matter next week on reopening.

Confirming the development, one of the expert members in the committee, Anil Ghanwat, said, “The committee has submitted its report to the Supreme Court on March 19 in a sealed cover. The report is based on the issues referred to it for consideration as per the January 12 order passed by the Supreme Court. We have given our recommendations. Now it is entirely up to the Supreme Court to act on our recommendations.” Ghanwat is also the president of the Maharashtra-based farmer organisation, Shetkari Sanghatana.

At the heart of the dispute are the three farm laws — Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 and Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020. The laws were cleared by the Parliament and came into operation after receiving Presidential assent in September last year.

The committee was originally constituted with Bhupinder Singh Mann (then national president, Bhartiya Kisan Union (Mann), and All India Kisan Coordination Committee), Pramod Kumar Joshi (agricultural economist, director for South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute), Ashok Gulati, (agricultural economist and former chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices), and Anil Ghanwat. Two days later, Mann resigned expressing solidarity with the cause of the farmer unions opposed to the laws.

Prior to January 12 when the committee was formed, several rounds of negotiations between the government and farmer unions ended in a deadlock with many farmer unions intensifying their stir at Delhi borders and demanding repeal of the laws.

To break the impasse, a three-judge bench of the top court headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde formed the committee and stayed the implementation of the three laws. The order said, “The negotiations between the farmers’ bodies and the Government have not yielded any result so far. Therefore, we are of the view that the constitution of a committee of experts in the field of agriculture to negotiate between the farmers’ bodies and the Government of India may create a congenial atmosphere and improve the trust and confidence of the farmers. We are also of the view that a stay of implementation of all the three farm laws for the present, may assuage the hurt feelings of the farmers and encourage them to come to the negotiating table with confidence and good faith.”

The court had directed the committee to submit its report in two months. Since its constitution, the committee received several suggestions and met farmer unions. Meanwhile, one of the farmer unions – Bhartiya Kisan Union (Bhanu) – approached the top court seeking removal of the three members alleging bias against them. The application filed by the union attached news clippings of the committee members openly expressing their support for the farm laws.

On January 20, the court ruled out bias against the members of the committee and hit out against aspersions being cast on them based on their views on the subject. The bench led by CJI Bobde said, “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 the constitutionality of the laws, but we will not expose the members whom we appointed to such maligning based on public opinion decided by majority.” On bias, the court held, “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.”

Several petitions are pending before the Supreme Court on the constitutional validity of the three farm laws. One set of petitions has demanded scrapping of the three laws on the ground that they “surreptitiously” repeal similar laws passed by states which interferes with the state’s law-making power without an effective amendment to the Constitution. At the same time, another set of petitions in the top court supports the legislations as being beneficial for farmers.

Among those who have challenged the farm laws include members of Parliament – Tiruchi Siva from Tamil Nadu’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and Manoj Kumar Jha from Bihar’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), lawyer Manohar Lal Sharma, and farmers/farmer unions – Bhartiya Kisan Party, farmer from Madhya Pradesh DP Dhakad, Chhattisgarh Kisan Congress vice president Rakesh Vaishnav and P Ayyakannu, state president of National South Indian River Interlinking Agriculturist Sangam.

Source: Hindustan Times

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