Day 4 Arguments: 20 January 2021
Three petitions are before the Court around farm laws and farmers’ protests: one challenges the constitutionality of the farm laws; the second supports the implementation of the laws and; the third, filed by some NCT Delhi residents, claims that these protests violate their fundamental rights.
The Court has heard these petitions thrice since December. In an early hearing, before the Christmas vacation, the Court emphasized the protection of the farmers’ fundamental right to protest so long as public order was not disturbed. In the second week of January 2021, a three-judge bench led by CJI Bobde stayed the farm laws as the Union Government was unable to reach a negotiated settlement. It went on to set up a four-member Committee to negotiate between the farmers and the Government.
First, the Attorney General, representing the Delhi Police, requested an injunction to prohibit the protesting farmers from carrying out a tractor march on Republic Day. The Solicitor General jumped in and asked the Court to hear this matter on 25 January 2021 – a day before the Republic Day. Justice Bodbe was certain that the Court would not interfere on this matter: The State had the authority to appropriately respond to a potential law and order issue. The Delhi Police was allowed to withdraw its application seeking for a restraining order against the farmers regarding their intended Republic Day protests.
Moving on from the Republic Day protest issue, the Court considered the petition filed by Kisan Mahapanchayat for the reconstitution of the four-member Committee. CJI Bodbe queried if the petitioner sought for replacement of Bhupinder Singh Mann, who earlier in the week had quit, or reconstitution of the entire Committee. Ajay Choudhary, the advocate representing Kisan Mahapanchayat raised concerns regarding the bias of the members of the Committee: all the four members whom the Court appointment had publicly commented on the farm laws, the Court should appoint persons who would negotiate between the parties with an open mind.
CJI Bobde was not convinced by this argument: The Committee members were experts. They do not possess any adjudicatory power. Instead, they are required to negotiate, hear the farmers out and report to the Court. CJI Bodbe further clarified that having an opinion would not lead to bias.
Sr. Adv. Prashant Bhushan who represents a few farmers’ unions informed that Court that his clients were not keen on participating in the Committee: they seek to have the farm laws repealed. CJI Bobde asked Bhushan to persuade the farmers’ unions to participate in the negotiations and maintain peace.
The Court issued a notice to the application regarding the constitution of the Committee and is slated to hear the matter in two weeks.