The Supreme Court on Wednesday said that it was disappointed by the “unnecessary aspersions” cast on the expert panel that it had formed to address the farmers’ grievances about the agricultural laws, Live Law reported.

The bench, headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, was hearing a petition filed by farmers’ groups Bhartiya Kisan Union Lokshakti and Kisan Mahapanchayat for the re-constitution of panel. The farmers have strongly opposed the committee, saying that all the four members were in favour of the agricultural laws.

Justice Bobde rebuked the farmers’ unions for maligning the experts on the panel. “The basis of your application is that all four people [experts] are disqualified,” he said. “How do you come to that conclusion? They are brilliant minds in the field of agriculture. They are experts. How do you malign them because they have expressed some views in the past?”

The chief justice sternly told the farmers that it was their choice to appear or not to appear before the committee. “But you cannot malign people like this and cast aspersions on them and also the court,” he said. “If you don’t want to appear, don’t appear. Why do you need to brand people like this?”

The court took strong objection to being called biased. “How can you play with people’s reputation like this?” Justice Bobde asked the farmers’ groups. “You malign people according to majority opinion?”

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The Supreme Court clarified that the panel was formed only to listen to the farmers’ concerns and had no power to decide on anything. “Where is the question of bias?” the chief justice asked the farmers’ groups.

However, the court issued a notice on the petition to reconstitute the expert panel and asked the Centre to file a response. “We don’t understand this,” Justice Bobde said. “The Supreme Court appoints a committee and their reputation is torn to shreds! Anyway, we are issuing notice on this petition.”

The Bharatiya Kisan Union Lokshakti, one of the groups participating in the ongoing farmers’ agitation, had on Saturday requested the Supreme Court to remove the expert committee, noting that it comprised only of those experts who had openly favoured the contentious legislations. The group added that the decision to appoint a partisan panel violated “the principle of natural justice”.

As the farmers refused to hold talks with the panel, member Bhupinder Singh Mann recused himself from the committee on January 14. Mann, who is also the chief of the All India Kisan Coordination Committee, affirmed his support for the protesting farmers.

The Supreme Court had on January 12 suspended the implementation of the new farm laws until further orders and the formed the committee to resolve the deadlock between the Centre and farmers’ unions. Apart from Mann, Director for South Asia of International Food Policy Research Institute Pramod Joshi, agricultural economist Ashok Gulati and Maharashtra Shetkari Sangathna member Anil Ghanwat were selected as the members.

The farmers’ agitation

Tens of thousands of farmers have been camping out on the outskirts of Delhi for over 50 days, demanding the repeal of the three agricultural laws passed in September. The farmers believe that the new laws undermine their livelihood and open the path for the corporate sector to dominate agricultural.

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. The law passed in September are meant to overhaul antiquated procurement procedures and open up the market, the government has claimed.

Two sides are scheduled to hold their tenth meeting on Wednesday. All the previous rounds of discussion have failed to break the deadlock over the agricultural laws.