On September 1, Anil Ghanwat, the president of Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, a farmers’ union in Maharashtra, wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of India. In the letter, Ghanwat urged the highest authority of the court to release a report prepared by a committee he had been a part of earlier in the year.
The committee he mentioned in the letter, was constituted by the Supreme Court in January after it suspended the implementation of the three contentious farm laws passed by the government in 2020, which sparked off protests by thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh that have continued to rage every since.
The Supreme Court suspended the laws, and tasked the four members appointed to the committee with assessing their impact. The government seemed to hope that the court’s actions might break the deadlock over the last.
But all the members were already known to support the controversial laws publicly. One of them recused himself from it following pushback from farmer groups. In March, what had become a three-member committee submitted a report with its findings.
Yet, nearly six months later the report remains hidden from the public as the court has not yet released it, nor issued any orders based on it.
In his letter to the Chief Justice, Ghanwat noted that the report “has not been given any attention by the Honourable Supreme Court”. He wrote that the report “addressed all the apprehensions of the farmers” and saw it as a way for the protesting farmers to reach a solution.
“As a member of the committee, especially representing the farmers’ community, I am pained that the issue raised by the farmers aren’t yet resolved and the agitation is continuing,” the letter states.
When contacted, Ghanwat refused to divulge the details of the report, but said farmers could not be left protesting for months. “The farmers’ demands cannot be met and the laws cannot be revoked,” Ghanwat told Scroll.in over the phone.
Another member of the committee concurred with Ghanwat and questioned why the court had not yet released the report. “He [Ghanwat] is right because he was representing farmers and we should ask why the report has not been released so far,” said Pramod Joshi, an agricultural economist and the former director for South Asia at the International Food Policy Research Institute.
Strikingly, the Supreme Court has not heard the matter since it stayed the implementation of the laws in January. In addition, it has not set a date to hear the matter in the coming months, the case status on the court website shows. In July, some farmers’ organisations wrote to Chief Justice NV Ramana, and appealed to him to resume hearings in the matter, The Hindu Business Line reported.
A long protest
The farmers’ protest has continued for more than ten months with several hundreds of farmers demonstrating at the areas bordering Delhi to dissent against the three farm laws. They have demanded the government revoke them, fearing the laws will undermine existing agricultural markets and leave farmers at the mercy of private corporations. The government, on the other hand, maintains that the new laws will give farmers more options in selling their produce, lead to better pricing, and free them from unfair monopolies.
But months later, there seems to be no solution as multiple attempts to address the differences between the farmers and the government have fallen wayward.
Talks between the Centre and the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella of more than 32 farmer unions and groups, stopped on January 22. There has been a deadlock since then, with farmers groups, demanding a complete roll back of the laws, rejecting the Centre’s offer to suspend the implementation for two years.
On January 12, amidst these talks the Supreme Court appointed a committee, consisting of Ghanwat, Joshi, agricultural economist Ashok Gulati and All Indian Kisan Coordination Committee chief Bhupinder Singh Mann. Two days after the committee was formed, Mann recused himself from it, stating that his interest was with the farmers.
The Samyukt Kisan Morcha rejected the court appointed committee and accused them of having a set agenda in favour of the laws. In any case, the committee did not consult the protesting farmers and spoke to stakeholders who already appeared to support the laws, as Scroll.in reported earlier.
Its members said it was impossible for the Centre to heed to the farmers’ demand to revoke the laws. “If the government will start withdrawing laws then every time there will be some sort of agitation to compel the government to withdraw,” said Pramod Joshi.
He added that the committee had not met after they submitted the report in a “sealed cover”, but anxiously waited for the apex court to release it. “We are just discussing it among ourselves on WhatsApp,” he said.
What then lies ahead for the agitating farmers?
The way forward
Farmer leaders said they had to constantly innovate to keep the momentum of the protest high. Even then, most of them admitted that the fatigue among farmers would grow unless the government stepped in to resolve the issue.
“It is only the government that can do something,” said firebrand leader Gurnam Singh Chaduni of Bharatiya Kisan Union, Haryana. “There is no way forward [for us], we are sitting the way we were before. The court also cannot do anything, that is why it is silent.”
Among others, the lack of dialogue is leading to a growing restlessness. “We cannot run away and leave the field [of the protest],” said Hannan Mollah of the All India Kisan Sabha, which is also a part of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha.
This has pushed the group to take its campaign to the poll-bound states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand among others.
On September 5, the group organised a kisan mahapanchayat or farmers’ congregation in Muzaffarnagar, western Uttar Pradesh to brush off the lull in the protest induced by the second wave of Covid-19. The congregation was attended by thousands of farmers, including those from the Jat community who dominate the area.
It was seen as a gathering in opposition of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party especially in light of the communal violence between Hindu Jats and Muslims which ravaged the area in 2013. But on the ground, the sentiment around the political messaging among the Jat farmers remains mixed as this Scroll.in ground report found.
Even then, farmer leaders said that taking the protest to the elections was the way forward. They said they would not stand for elections but “bring out their [the BJP’s] bad intention in front of the public”. “The BJP’s popularity is dipping so they will have to see how much they want to dent that further,” said Jagjit Singh Dallewal of Bharatiya Kisan Union Ekta and one of the leaders of the morcha.
Others said the possible impact of campaigning against the ruling party would give them a dose of their own medicine. “They do not understand anything apart from that,” said Mollah. “So we will hit them where it hurts. Vote ka chot denge.” We will hurt them with votes, he said.