Editorial

Stay and after

| Updated on January 12, 2021 Published on January 12, 2021

By leaning towards their side with a stay on farm laws, the SC has now put the onus on farmers

The Supreme Court’s decision to stay implementation of the three contentious farm legislation while appointing an expert committee to study the issue appears, on the face of it, to be a victory for the agitating farmers. Here is the highest court of the land keeping in abeyance the operation of the laws that are perceived to be harmful to the farmers’ interests and also attempting to break the deadlock in talks between them and the government by introducing a neutral body in the form of a committee that will speak to both sides and give its recommendations. Yet, it may not be as simple as that. The apex court’s decision actually puts the agitating farmers on the backfoot because it’s a half-victory for them for which they will now be expected to concede something in return. It would be difficult for the farmer organisations to overlook the SC’s moves and insist on continuing with their agitation as that would be seen as unreasonable. Indeed, the court has advised them that the stay order should be seen as an achievement of their peaceful protest and they should now convince their members to return to their homes.

On the other hand, the Centre may be seen as on the losing side but the fact is that the court’s decision should actually come as a relief for it as it now puts the onus on the farmers. While the committee will take the heat off the government for now, it’s constitution is also interesting because the views of some of its members expressed in the past are favourable to the legislation. Indeed, the farmers are already complaining against the constitution of the committee. It should be interesting to watch if the government pushes actively for the next round of talks with the farmers which are now scheduled for January 15. The government can well take the position that with the court seized of the matter, it is now up to the committee to come up with its recommendations based on which the talks can be carried forward. And that would mean it can buy two months more time, as that is the deadline given by the court to the committee to submit its report. Yet, such a tactic may not be well received because the intent of the court seems to have been mainly to break the deadlock in the dialogue. It has not gone into the substantive argument among the petitions that challenged the validity of the Constitution (Third Amendment) Act, 1954 that enables the Centre to also legislate on “Trade and Commerce in Agriculture” which is otherwise a State subject.

It may be in the interest of the farmer unions to display more flexibility. The unions now risk losing the support of public opinion if they continue to be intransigent in the face of the court staying the operation of the laws. As for the Centre, it has little to lose in approaching the talks in a positive frame of mind to end the impasse.

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Published on January 12, 2021
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