The Supreme Court on Thursday asked Attorney General KK Venugopal if the three contentious agriculture laws can be put on hold till the hearing on petitions seeking removal of farmers from various borders of Delhi was underway, reported Bar and Bench.
“Will you assure the court that you will not implement the law till we hear it... It is to enable discussion,” Chief Justice of India SA Bobde asked. In response, Venugopal sought time to get back on the matter.
Justice Bobde also commented that a protest is constitutional till it does not destroy property or endanger life, reported Bar and Bench. The comment was made during hearing of a bunch of petitions seeking removal of farmers from various borders of Delhi, agitating against the three new agriculture laws.
“Protest has a goal and that purpose cannot be achieved by sitting in protest,” Justice Bobde said. “Centre and farmers have to talk. We will facilitate it.”
The court also said it was thinking about “an impartial and independent committee”, which can hear both the Centre and the farmers. “The committee will give a finding which should be followed...The committee can have [journalist] P Sainath, Bhartiya Kisan Union and others.”
“...Meanwhile protest will continue in a non-violent fashion... You cannot instigate violence too by police. You cannot block a city like this,” the court added. On Wednesday too, the Supreme Court had suggested the formation of a panel with the representatives of the farmers and the Centre to resolve the deadlock.
On Thursday, as hearing began, the court said that it would only decide regarding the farmers’ protest and the fundamental right of citizens to move, adding that the question of the validity of the three laws can wait, reported ANI.
Appearing for the states of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, advocate Harish Salve made the first submissions and said that the blockade at Delhi’s borders is affecting the price of goods, according to Bar and Bench. “You [Supreme Court] have recognised right to protest,” Salve said. “One right has to be balanced with Right to life. Fruits and vegetables come from neighboring states and prices of goods are rocketing.” Suggesting that a right cannot be absolute, he said one “cannot hold a city to ransom”.
To this, Justice Bobde said that his argument cannot be denied and the court while acknowledging the right to protest, will ask the Centre if the manner of the protest can be altered.
Attorney General Venugopal said that the farmers should discuss the laws clause by clause. “They can’t say repeal or nothing,” Venugopal said. “Complaint needs to be given to government.” He further contended that that protest is in violation of fundamental rights of other citizens and that the agitation could potentially lead to spreading of coronavirus in the country.
“This blockade of road is violative of Article 19 impacting right to movement,” the attorney general said, according to Bar and Bench. “None of them are wearing masks and they sit in large crowds. When they go back to their villages, they will spread Covid across India.”
Senior Advocate P Chidambaram, appearing for the state of Punjab, said that he they do not have an objection against the formation of the committee, proposed by the Supreme Court, but maintained that it was for the farmers and the Centre to agree upon the committee members. He also objected to Salve’s submission that the farmers had blocked the borders, saying that it was instead the police who has done so.
“Who has blocked entry?” Chidambaram asked. “They [police] have barbed wires, steel walls and now containers. They [farmers] want to come to Delhi. They want to protest subject to law and order.”
To this, the court said that there was no guarantee against injury to property and life, if the protests were allowed in the Capital.
In conclusion, the court said that an order can be passed only after hearing the farmers. Justice Bobde said a notice will be served to the farmer unions, who will be heard by a vacation bench as the chief justice will be unavailable due to prior commitments and the winter vacation.