Today the Supreme Court in Rakesh Vaishnav v. Union of India & Ors, ordered an interim stay on the implementation of the three farm laws: Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance & Farm Services Act, 2020, Farmers Produce Trade & Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Act, 2020 and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020


Three types of petitions are before the Court: first, challenging the constitutionality of the farm laws; second, supporting the implementation of farm laws; third, residents of NCT Delhi claiming that the farmers’ protest infringes their fundamental rights. The Court has heard these petitions thrice since December. Right before breaking to Christmas vacation, the Court noted that the farmers had a fundamental right to protest and they should be allowed to continue protesting as long as public order is not disturbed. 


The case came up for its third hearing yesterday: the three-judge bench led by CJI Bobde was inclined to stay the farm laws. And in today’s order, the Court did the same. The Court bemoaned the lack of progress the Government made to resolve this crisis. And set up a four-member Committee to negotiate between the farmers and the Government. 


When can the Court Stay the Implementation of an Act?

A strong set of precedents including Bhavesh Parish v. Union of India holds that the laws passed by the legislature are presumed to be constitutionally valid. Interim stay on an Act’s implementation can be ordered only if it is proved that the law is ‘manifestly unjust’, ‘glaringly unconstitutional’, would cause ‘irreparable injury’ and would go against ‘public interest’. In all cases, the party seeking for such an interim stay has to prove these conditions. 


By issuing an interim stay on the farm laws, the Supreme Court has passed an unprecedented and groundbreaking order for three reasons. First, in the three court hearings neither did any party argue for an interim stay nor did they illustrate how the farm laws met the standard interim stay conditions. The court seemed to have issued this order on its own volition: a path it has hardly trodden in the past. 


Second, the Court has relied on Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil v. Chief Minister, Maharashtra (case challenging Maratha Reservation) in today’s order. The reliance on the Maratha Reservation case might be misplaced: The Court had stayed the implementation of the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018 (SEBC Act) after having heard the parties, substantially, for over 15 days. Moreover, several parties demanded an interim stay of the SEBC Act. More importantly, the Court believed that the SEBC Act prima facie violated the Constitution. 


Third, in the recent past, the Court has been reluctant to grant an interim stay on an Act. In the Aadhaar-right to privacy case, the case challenging Electoral Bonds, the case challenging the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, the case challenging Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand’s anti-conversion laws the Court denied interim application of crucial legislations.


With this order, has the Court creatively responded to the farmers' protests at the Delhi borders or will this order become an enduring legal precedent?