The Opposition on Tuesday questioned the Supreme Court’s decision of forming a committee comprising only of those experts who have been openly favouring the contentious agricultural legislations to resolve the deadlock, The Hindu reported. It said a partisan panel like this cannot be expected to be a “neutral arbiter”.

While hearing a batch of petitions challenging the new legislations and the round-the-clock protests around it, the Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended the implementation of the three farm laws until further orders, and constituted a committee to “amicably resolve” the stalemate between the government and the protesting farmers.

Chief Justice of India SA Bobde proposed agricultural economists Ashok Gulati, Pramod Kumar Joshi, Bhupinder Singh Mann of the Bhartiya Kisan Union and Anil Ghanwat of Shetkeri Sangthana as members of the committee. Each of these members have in the past publicly supported the new laws.

At a press conference held after the hearing, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala wondered what was the criteria for selecting the panel members. “We don’t know who gave these names to the honourable Supreme Court,” he said. “There was a ray of hope in the manner and fashion in which it came out and stood in support of the farmers. Perhaps nobody pointed out the background of the members or the fact they stand for the implementation of these laws.”

Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram said the party welcomed the Supreme Court’s concern over the farm laws, but has problems with the composition of the committee formed by it. “The decision to form a committee to help find a solution is well-intentioned,” he wrote on Twitter. “However, the composition of the committee is puzzling and sends contradictory signals”.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also weighed in on the matter and noted that the manner in which the panel had been appointed put the government in an advantageous position. “Can justice be expected from individuals who have written support for anti-agricultural laws?” he asked.

Gandhi called this a “useless attempt” to confuse the farmers. “The annadata understands the intentions of the government,” he added. “Their demand is clear – Take back the anti-agricultural law, that’s it!”

Notably, farmer leaders have made it abundantly clear that they would not participate in the processes undertaken by the committee, which they say is clearly “pro-government”. They said the court’s decision to stay the proceedings were “welcome but not a solution”, and the demand for a total repeal of laws would continue. Experts also pointed out that while court took the rare step of putting on hold the implementation of laws that were passed in the Parliament in a controversial manner, it did not examine the constitutionality of the laws themselves.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury sympathised with the farmers’ point of view, and said that given the constitution of the expert committee, farmers have no option but to boycott it. “Can anyone expect the protesting farmers demanding repeal of agri laws to talk to such a committee,” he questioned. “Why should they? Farmers are left with no other option than to boycott it?”

CPI General Secretary D Raja told The Hindu that the constitution of the committee by the court raises serious questions.

Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’ Brien, meanwhile, said, “As a political party, we are with the farmers and we reiterate our position that the laws should be repealed.”

Former law minister Ashwani Kumar, in a statement, said the composition of the committee was only “provocative”. Kumar stated that the court, by staying the implementation of the laws, was blurring the boundaries between the role of the legislature and the judiciary.

“The issue is essentially one of policy involving a major political decision based on the broadest national consensus and is clearly a function of political rather than a judicial process. Even otherwise, the question of enforceability of its policy related judgments concerning political sensitivities has caused enough embarrassment to the court in the past, apart from raising issues about the advisability of the top court entering the political thicket contrary to its own pronouncements.”

— Ashwani Kumar, The Hindu

‘Resounding moral defeat for Centre, but committee a joke’

Shiromani Akali Dal President Sukhbir Singh Badal called the Supreme Court’s decision to put the implementation of the farm laws on hold a “resounding moral defeat of the BJP government”.

“[The] SC order vindicates SAD stand, as it had not only voted against the bills, but also it quit its long standing alliance with BJP,” Badal added. “Harsimrat Badal promptly resigned from Cabinet and Akali patriarch S Parkash Singh Badal returned his Padma Vibhushan in protest against the Acts.”

However, he too took exception to the committee appointed by the court, saying it was a “joke” and is “unacceptable”. “It exposes the nexus between Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and the BJP-led Centre,” he alleged. “Akali Dali also objects to GoI [Government of India] allegations in SC that Khalistani elements have infiltrated the protest.”

During the hearing on Tuesday, the Centre renewed allegations that separatist Khalistani elements have infiltrated the farmers’ protest against the Centre’s farm laws. The Supreme Court asked the government to file an affidavit on the matter by Wednesday.