The Supreme Court on Monday said it was extremely disappointed with the way talks were proceeding between the Centre and farmer unions over the new agricultural laws, and warned that it would put the contentious legislations on hold if the government refused to do so, Live Law reported.

The court also observed that current negotiations between a delegation of protestors and several Union ministers were not reaping any results, and reiterated that the matter needed to be resolved by a committee. The bench had first suggested the formation of a neutral committee having representatives of the government and farmer unions to resolve the deadlock on December 17.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde was hearing a batch of pleas seeking removal of farmers protesting near the Delhi borders. Another set of petitions challenging the three farm laws were also listed before the bench.

During the hearing on Monday, Justice Bobde pulled up the Centre for seeking more time and insisting on implementing the laws. “We don’t see why there should be an insistence that the laws must be implemented at any cost,” he said. “We don’t know if you are part of the problem or solution.”

The court added that it would stop the implementation of the legislations if the panel it appointed advised it to do so. “You tell us if you will put on hold the implementation of the laws,” the court told the government. “Otherwise we will do it. What is the problem in keeping it in abeyance?”

It noted that the situation had gotten worse since the last hearing. “People are committing suicide,” the court noted. “People are suffering in the cold....We are proposing to set up a committee. We also propose to stay the implementation of the laws.”

It was the court’s understanding that the talks were breaking down because the government wanted a clause by clause discussion on the new policies, while the farmers wanted nothing short of a complete repeal of the new laws, Justice Bobde said.

When Solicitor General Tushar Mehta argued that many farmer organisations have supported the “progressive legislations,” the court remarked, “We don’t have any single petition before us saying that the laws are good.”

The attorney general argued that only two or three states were protesting against the reforms. “The law is a crystallisation of the recommendations of several committees,” he added. “If your lordships stay the law, it will cause tremendous loss to the 2,000 farmers.”

He also pointed out that that there are Supreme Court precedents that do not allow it to stay legislations. “Staying implementation of law is same as staying,” he added. “Court cannot do indirectly what it cannot do directly.”

The court, however, said it was well aware of the laws, and noted, “We are sorry to say that you, as the Union of India, are not able to solve the problem. You have made a law without enough consultation resulting in a strike. So you have to resolve the strike.” The Supreme Court will continue hearing the matter on Tuesday, Bar and Bench reported. It may also pass an order on the petitions.

‘Will allow protests to continue in peaceful manner’

The chief justice further told senior advocate Vikas Singh, who appeared in a petition against the farmer protests, that the bench will not alter the previous order that the farmers can continue protesting at key entry points to Delhi in a peaceful manner. “But the court will think of changing the site of protest,” he added.

“We are not against protests,” the court said. “Don’t understand that the court is stifling protests. But we ask, if after the laws are stayed, will you move the site of protests to accommodate people’s concerns.”

The court said that “each one of us” would be responsible if something goes wrong. “We have an apprehension that someone will do something a day which will lead to breach of peace,” it added. “We don’t want anybody’s blood on our hands.”

Justice Bobde also asked advocate HS Phoolka to persuade old people and women at the protest sites to go back home. “I want to take a risk,” he said. “I want you to tell them that the Chief Justice of India wants them [old people and women] to go back. Try persuade them.”

On formation of committee

As the Supreme Court stressed on the need to take the matter to an independent committee, the attorney general claimed that the panel will not be “useful” if the farmers do not tell their exact grievances with the new laws.

“When they go before the committee, will it be their only demand that the laws must be repealed?” he asked. “They must tell the committee item by item their grievances. Then the committee will decide item by item.”

CJI Bobde said the court trusted senior advocates like Prashant Bhushan, Dushyant Dave and Phoolka, who would communicate to the farmers the real purpose of forming the committee. “We are not creating an alternative forum” he added.

Advocate Dave suggested former CJI RM Lodha’s name for the committee. Solicitor General Mehta, on the other hand, sought a day’s time to suggest names.