Thursday, Jan 14, 2021 07:45 [IST]
Last Update: Thursday, Jan 14, 2021 02:11 [IST]
With talks between the Centre and farmers yielding no breakthrough, hopes were pinned on the Supreme Court to end the deadlock over India’s new farm laws. But the issue appears no closer to resolution. On Tuesday, our top court stayed their implementation and appointed a four-member panel to hear all representations and submit a report. These were matters of life and death, it observed, and said that it was trying to solve the problem in the best way. Noting that "no solution was in sight", the Supreme Court said it was trying to solve the problem in the best way and had the power to suspend the laws.
However, on Wednesday, the Supreme Court pressed pause on the laws enacted in September in a huge blow to the government. The three new laws at the heart of massive farmer protests near Delhi will not come into force for now, until further orders. The top court also said a committee of agricultural experts would take over negotiations with farmers to end the crisis, and called it a "victory of fair play".
The government had told the court that the laws "were not hurriedly made", that they were the result of two decades of deliberations. In eight rounds of talks with farmers' unions over the past month, the government had firmly ruled out withdrawing the laws but had offered to make amendments.
The farmers, protesting on highways outside Delhi since late November, have said they will accept nothing short of the government cancelling the laws, which they believe will deprive them of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) – the guaranteed cost at which the government buys from them and leave them at the mercy of corporates. They have refused to buy the central government's argument that the laws will bring long-delayed reforms in the agriculture sector by doing away with middlemen and allowing farmers to sell anywhere in the country.
Forty-eight days of protest and eight rounds of Centre-farmers talks later, the move by the Supreme Court is been seen by experts as “crossing the line”. It has taken into its hands a political problem that was, that still is, the government’s to negotiate and resolve. Many economic reforms run into resistance, it is for the government to work out policies, and while the manner in which it sought to reform farming was injudicious, no court can stop it from pursuing a legitimate agenda. Staying implementation of the Centre’s farm laws, and setting up an expert committee that will ostensibly listen to grievances of protesting farmers and views of government and frame recommendations — may be well-intentioned but it sets a dubious precedent.