SC committee report on farm laws still in a sealed cover; farmer organizations adamant on protest
In the second week of January, the SC ordered a stay on the three farm laws till further order and constituted a four-member expert committee. The committee submitted its report to the SC on March 19. The case has been put on the back burner ever since the then CJI SA Bobde retired on April 23. However, the parties concerned would like to know about the recommendations proposed by the committee to find a solution to the ongoing farmers’ protest against the three laws.
The farmers’ protest against the three farm laws brought in by the central government is in its sixth month. Farmers camping on Delhi borders since November 27, 2020, are not willing to go away in spite of the second wave of the Covid-19 epidemic being at its peak. Nobody seems to be paying heed to the ray of hope that was seen in January. In the second week of January, the Supreme Court (SC) had ordered a stay on the three farm laws till further order and constituted a four-member expert committee. Bhupinder Singh Mann, who was one of its members, resigned. But the three other members continued with their task and the committee submitted its report to the SC on March 19, 2021. The case has been put on the back burner ever since the then Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde retired on April 23, 2021. However, all the parties concerned are of course curious about the recommendations proposed by the committee to find a solution to the ongoing farmers’ protest against the three laws. It is also true that the results of the recent Assembly elections and Uttar Pradesh (UP) panchayat elections have reinforced the belief of the farmer organizations that they are now in a position to create greater pressure on the government because they are convinced of the role of the farmer protest in the results going against the BJP.
In a conversation with RuralVoice, one of the members of the committee said, “We had submitted our report to the SC way back on March 19. We had hoped it would be made public but about a month and a half has passed and the report still continues to be confidential. Now that the then CJI, who was heading the bench that constituted the committee, has retired, it is difficult for us to predict when the court will consider this case.”
On the other hand, the main organizations of the farmers protesting the central laws had refused to appear before the committee and they never turned up before it. They say that whatever stance the SC takes on the report of the committee will have little impact on their movement. The movement is on and will go on till the laws are repealed.
Perhaps nobody had hoped that the three farm laws of the central government would lead to a farmers’ movement unprecedented in recent Indian history. But the farmers have been protesting in thousands on various Delhi borders for about six months. Their demand is that all three farm laws be repealed. The laws are: 1) Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; 2) Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; and 3) Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020. There have been protests on a smaller scale against these farm laws in other parts of the country as well. These laws had been implemented through ordinances in the first week of June 2020 and they were passed by the Parliament in September.
Farmers had started protests against these laws right from the ordinance stage and called for a Bharat Bandh in September. The farmers’ movement intensified in November. They marched to Delhi on November 26 and have been camping on the borders ever since. After several rounds of talks with the government failed, there has been a lack of dialogue between the farmer organizations and the government since January 22. Meanwhile, the SC, while hearing the case, issued an order on January 11 and stayed the laws till further order. On January 12, it constituted a four-member expert committee that would hold talks with the parties concerned and prepare its report in order to resolve the issue. Bhupinder Singh Mann, who was one of its members, resigned. The committee is now left with three members — Ashok Gulati, agricultural economist and Infosys Chair Professor at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER); Pramod Kumar Joshi, former Director (South Asia), International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); and Anil Ghanwat, President, Shetkari Sangathan. Its first meeting was held on January 15 and last on March 17. It held 23 meetings with the farmers, farmer organizations, traders and government officials over this period and also sought the opinions of the parties concerned through its online portal.
Meanwhile, there have been two developments on the political front. One, in the recently held Assembly elections, the farmer organizations continuously canvassed against the BJP, the ruling party at the centre. Leaders of the joint front of the farmers addressed several farm panchayats in order to defeat the BJP in West Bengal. Two, in the three-tier elections for Gram Panchayats and Zila Panchayats in UP, the farmer organizations worked against the BJP and people affiliated with the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) even contested the elections. One could see the direct impact of the farmers’ movement on election results in western UP, where the BJP has had serious political losses. Buoyed by these results, farmer organizations say that they will continue with their movement and that these results make it clear that the farmers are unhappy with the BJP government. Given this situation, these results may strengthen the farmers’ movement that is going on in a host of adverse conditions. Besides, considering the fact that the Assembly elections are due in UP within a year, the movement is bound to aggravate the BJP’s troubles.
In fact, things have come to a standstill on this issue. The government is silent on its part. Neither are the farmer organizations much active. Even the meetings of the joint front of the farmers have not been held for quite some time now. Of course, the farmer organizations from Punjab do keep working to increase their numbers in the dharnas that are going on at the Delhi borders.
On the other hand, not much curiosity is visible regarding the recommendations of the SC committee. It is of course true that the implementation of these laws has been stayed till further orders from the SC. As far as the recommendations of the committee are concerned, speculation is rife that the majority of the report consists of what was said by those who appeared before the committee with their opinions while only a limited part of it presents the experts’ views. However, while speaking to RuralVoice, one of the members of the committee does say that the report of the committee should be made public. “If this happens, people will come to know what solution we have proposed.”