The Supreme Court on Monday issued a notice to the Centre on petitions challenging the three new agricultural laws that were passed in September, Live Law reported. The top court gave the government four weeks to file its response.
“You will have to answer this petition, somewhere or the other,” the court told the Centre. “We will issue notice.” A bench headed by the Chief Justice of India SA Bode was hearing writ petitions led by Manohar Lal Sharma of the Chhattisgarh Kisan Congress, and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP Tiruchi Siva.
The top court, however, made observations on a plea by advocate ML Sharma challenging the validity of the farm laws as there was no cause of action for the petition. “Where is the cause of action?” Bobde asked Sharma, who was appearing as party-in-person. “Mere passing of a legislation does not furnish a cause of action. You go and acquire a cause of action. We don’t want to reject your prayer. We will allow you to withdraw and come back when a cause of action arises.”
In their appeal, the petitioners had argued that the three laws would dismantle the system laid down under the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee, which intends to assure fair prices for farm products, and expose small and marginal farmers to exploitation by big corporates.
Besides this, they also challenged the “legislative competence” of Parliament to enact the laws on farmers, contending that agriculture and agriculture trade are exclusively State subjects under the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.
“The basic fabric of federalism unites the Union and different States within an overarching political system in such a way so as to allow each to maintain its own fundamental political integrity,” said the plea by Siva. “Therefore, the federal structure of our democracy cannot be permitted to be destroyed by the Union Legislature blatantly encroaching into matters purely within the domain of the State Legislatures.”
The pleas further contended that since most farmers in Chhattisgarh are members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, they are entitled to additional protections under Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the Constitution.
The three ordinances – Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Ordinance 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Assurance and Farm Service Ordinance 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 – were passed in September. They were signed into laws by President Ram Nath Kovind on September 27.
Weeks later, protests against the laws continue to be staged in many parts of the country. When two of the legislations were tabled during a chaotic session in Parliament on September 20, some Opposition MPs claimed that they would prove to be the “death warrant” for the agricultural sector.
Taken together, the three legislations loosen regulations on the sale, pricing and storage of agricultural produce. They allow farmers to sell outside mandis notified by the Agricultural Produce Market Committee. They enable contract farming through deals with private sector companies. They take food items like cereals and pulses off the list of essential commodities, lifting stock limits on such produce.
The government claims the new laws would give farmers the freedom to sell in the open market. But farmers disagree. They say the laws will weaken the minimum support price mechanism under which the government buys agricultural produce, leave farmers to the mercy of market forces and threaten food security.
Most Opposition parties and farmers’ organisations across the country have strongly opposed the bills. The Shiromani Akali Dal, one of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s oldest allies, pulled out of the National Democratic Alliance in protest against these bills.
Meanwhile, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said that the state government will ensure that farmers from other states do not benefit from selling their produce in the state. This contravenes the farm laws by the Centre, which promises barrier-free trade at markets and prices of the farmer’s choice.