What lies ahead post the staying of the controversial farm laws by the Supreme Court?
A major development took place in the ongoing farmers' protest with the Supreme Court finally deciding to put a stay on the implementation of the 3 controversial farm laws namely Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.
The decision came a day after the top court slammed the centre for its handling of the farmers' protest that has been going on for months now.
Background and Context
The protests began in Punjab and later on spread to different parts of the country with the subsequent joining of several farmer unions in its support. The protesters on 25 November 2020 started marching towards the Delhi borders where they faced severe police action and response and have been present there ever since. The demand of the farmers is the complete repealing of the farm laws.
The farm laws have been marred in controversies right from the very beginning. The seemingly hurried manner regarding the passing of the bills in the parliament has also fuelled the protests. The ambiguity about various facets of the laws and their possible consequences pertaining primarily to the loss of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and corporatization of agriculture along with the relatively rigid stand of the government are some of the primary concerns and issues that have made the farmer protests all the more intense.
Talks with the Government
8 rounds of talks between the protesting farmers and the government have yielded little to no result with both the sides adamant on their stand. The next round of talks is scheduled to take place on January 15 but looking at the rather inflexible stand of both the parties, the possibility of any understanding or compromise seems bleak.
Supreme Court and the Stay
A 3 judge bench comprising the Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde and Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, tore into the centre and decided to put a stay on the implementation of the controversial farm laws and ordered the formation of a 4 member committee to look into the matter to mitigate the crisis. Though the proactive approach of the top court has been viewed as necessary and crucial, statements made by the CJI have sparked outrage along with the inclusion of individuals supportive of the farm laws in the committee tasked with handling the situation has also given rise to new controversy among the protesting farmers.
The Way Ahead
Though the intervention does seem a step in the right direction, the response among the protesting farmers has been lukewarm at best. One of the chief concerns of the protesters is the inclusion of the supporters of the farm laws in the committee set up by the Supreme Court. The members of the committee include Ashok Gulati, Pramod Kumar Joshi, Anil Ghanwat and Bhupinder Singh Mann. All 4 members of the committee have been long term proponents of the liberalization of Indian agriculture and have publically supported the new farm laws. The farmers have responded by declaring the continuation of the agitation and deciding not to appear before the panel set up by the top court.
Apart from concerns over the inclusion of the 'pro-farm laws' members in the expert committee, the farmers believe that the involvement of the Supreme Court by the centre is just another ploy by the government to delay and divert the issue and distance itself from any embarrassment or responsibility.
The farmers, however, are still sticking to their demands of a complete repeal of the farm laws and have made it clear that they will not settle for anything less than that. The farmers will be burning the copies of the farm laws as part of Lohri Celebrations to further symbolically assert and clarify their stand on the entire issue. Both, the farmers and the government are adamant and immovable in their stance. So, what actually lies ahead? The next round of talks between the centre and the farmers do not show much hope for any reconciliation and solution for the issue at hand.
This issue and particularly the protests have seen multitudes of developments right from the start. The partial and misleading coverage by a large section of the mainstream media, allegations and accusations of the protests being infiltrated by separatists and the involvement of the opposition and the subsequent politicisation of the protests are some of the key aspects that have been witnessed throughout the course of the movement. Though the stay order is a partial victory for the protesting farmers but considering the unbending stand of the parties involved, how far this measure will help in resolving the crisis remains to be seen.
Another important thing that needs to be kept in mind is the capability and the willingness of the farmers to continue the protest. So far, the farmers have managed to sustain themselves by establishing a smooth chain and structure of logistics management. Add to that the support they have been able to garner for their cause from the public, as well as popular individuals, have given a boost to their morale and effort. But, with the Rabi season approaching and the harvest ready, many of the protesting farmers would need to go back to their fields. This could possibly play a key role a few months down the line if the protests were to continue till then.
For the government itself, this is a sticky wicket to bat on with the SAD (Shiromani Akali Dal) leaving the coalition, increasing public support for the protesting farmers and the stay order, the government will have to try its best to conclude this matter as smoothly and as soon as possible.
With over 60 farmers losing their lives during the course of the protest, the protests have been a source of criticism for the government and now the protesting farmers deciding and declaring of going ahead with a 'tractor rally' on Republic Day, the end to this crisis still seems a little far.