Why the protests when farm laws are on hold, Apex Court asks

Krishnadas Rajagopal NEW DELHI | Updated on October 05, 2021

Rues that ‘nobody takes responsibility when an agitation snowballs into violence’

The Supreme Court on Monday lashed out at farmers' bodies for continuing with protests against the agricultural laws, saying when the agitation snowballs into violence as in Uttar Pradesh's Lakhimpur Kheri, where eight people were killed, "nobody takes responsibility".

"When such incidents happen, causing deaths, loss to property and damage, nobody takes responsibility," Justice A.M. Khanwilkar observed.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal described the Lakhimpur Kheri violence on Sunday an "unfortunate incident". The top law officer for the government said the court should make it very clear that protests should not continue when the challenge against the farm laws were in the highest court of the country.

"No more unfortunate incidents like this should take place... The protests must stop," Mr. Venugopal, supported by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, submitted.

"But how can there be protests when the matter is sub judice here? Why are there protests when the laws have been kept in abeyance? It is intriguing, there is no Act in place at moment. The Act is stayed. The government has assured it will not give effect to it... So what is this protest for?" Justice Khanwilkar, flanked by Justice C.T. Ravikumar on the Bench, asked the farmers' body, Kisan Mahapanchayat.

The farmers' body wanted to sit on a satyagraha at Jantar Mantar in protest.

Justice Khanwilkar said the farm laws were passed by the Parliament. "The government is also bound by the laws passed by the Parliament... We are on principle here, once you go to court, how can the same party say that matter is before court, nevertheless I will still protest," the judge observed.

The court, in its order, decided to frame legal questions in the issue.

The Bench said it would first decide whether the right to protest was an "absolute right".

The court said it would decide whether farmers' bodies could resort to protests on a subject - the legality of three farm laws - which was already sub judice.

"First we will decide these legal questions and then we will examine your question [whether permission can be granted to sit on satyagraha at Jantar Mantar]," Justice Khanwilkar said addressing the Kisan Mahapanchayat.

The apex court fixed the case for final hearing on the two legal questions on October 21. It ordered the transfer of a case filed by the Kisan Mahapanchayat in Rajasthan HC on the same issue to itself.

The Bench asked the Centre to file a consolidated counter-affidavit.

On October 1, the Supreme Court had accused farmers of strangling the city with their protest against agricultural laws.

"On the one hand you have been strangulating the entire city and blocked highways... now you want to enter the city and protest here?" Justice Khanwilkar had lashed out at the farmers' body.

"Are you then protesting against judiciary? Once you have approached the court, you let the law take its own course... But instead you continue with the protests and block the national highways... You have to trust us," Justice Khanwilkar had chided the farmers' organisation.

Justice Khanwilkar had even asked the farmers whether they had taken the permission of the citizens who live nearby their protest sites on the national highways and public roads.

"Have you taken permission of the citizens living nearby? There is a right to protest, but there is a right to use public roads and free movement... You are even obstructing defence personnel movements. You block trains and then you say you have been protesting peacefully. There is no point in continuing to protest once you have come to the court," Justice Khanwilkar had said.

The Mahapanchayat's counsel, advocate Ajay Choudhary, said the police had blocked the highways and not the farmers. The farmers have only stressed their right to protest peacefully.

Published on October 04, 2021

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