fter weeks-long protests by farmers in the vicinity of Delhi demanding the outright repeal of three new farm laws, the Supreme Court Tuesday suspended the implementation of the laws until further order. Simultaneously, the top court constituted a four-member committee to go over the three laws and discuss issues with various stakeholders and submit a report within two months. Earlier, the court had shown frustrations at the way the government had been carrying out negotiations with the agitating farmers. The SC Monday had stopped short of putting a stay on the three laws. However, a day later it carried out the threat and put the implementation of the laws on hold. While welcoming the stay, farmers have openly disfavoured the formation of the committee. Their main contention is that all members of the SC-appointed panel are pro-government and previously supported the new farm laws and therefore they cannot expect much relief from the panel. Farmer unions have pooh-poohed the idea of constitution of a panel as they think this is a classic ploy by the government to prevaricate. The Centre has not immediately let out its reaction to the SC move.
The stay has not completely surprised the government as it knew the case will be headed for a stay. The court had hinted so much when it had first heard the matter earlier this month. Immediate relief for the Centre will be a disruption-free observance of the Republic Day. Another immediate benefit of the ruling is it is expected to break the protracted deadlock. While the stay on the implementation of the three laws looked like a victory for the agitating farmers, it was also a face-saver for the government. The Centre did not want to lose its face by agreeing to suspend the implementation of the laws and may have wanted the Supreme Court to do that bit on its behalf. In the seventh and the eighth rounds of discussions between the farmers and the government, the latter had categorically refused to negotiate on the repealing the thee farm laws. It said the impasse, if not resolved through talks, may be referred to the Supreme Court.
The reactions of the farmers’ outfits to the two-legged ruling of the court that they would continue with the stir do not augur well for all the stakeholders involved in the issue. The farmers must give respect to the democratic process of discussions. Having said that the interim stay has opened a Pandora’s Box, the SC has put on hold the laws without examining their constitutionality – its bounden duty. Putting a stay on legislation that has already been passed by Parliament could also be termed a judicial overreach. The court has not explained how it selected the members of the committee and on what basis. Further, how can a committee’s decision be legally binding on the parties when the highest court of the land has failed to do so? It is not clear what the government will do now. Now that the committee has been entrusted with the task to talk to both the parties, the government may try to take cover behind the panel. The interim stay on the three legislations may exert pressure on the farmer unions to show flexibility, failing which the unions may risk losing the support of the public opinion. However, the Centre must not recoil from its responsibility. It should continue to explore ways and means with a positive mind to end the impasse. Till then the interim stay on the implementation of the three farm laws will only work as a time-out during the face-off between the Centre and the farmer unions.