Supreme Court says farmers have right to protest, suggests Centre put implementation of farm laws on hold

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While hearing a bunch of petitions against the ongoing farmers’ agitation, the court said it would only decide regarding the farmers’ protest and the fundamental right of citizens to move and that the matter of validity of agriculture laws can wait

File image of the Supreme Court of India. PTI

The Supreme Court on Thursday said it recognises the farmers’ fundamental right to protest, but at the same time, it cannot affect other fundamental rights or the right to life of others, reported Live Law. “A protest can be constitutional till it does not destroy property or endanger life,” said the top court.

However, at the same time, the Chief Justice of India also asked the Attorney General for India if the Union Government can give a commitment that the contentious farm laws will not be implemented while the court is hearing the petitions seeking removal of farmers protests.

In a hearing conducted via video conferencing, the top court said the purpose of a protest can be achieved if the farmers and the government will hold talks and “we wish to facilitate that”.

But the Centre argued that if the enactment is put on hold, the farmers will not come forward for negotiations. Attorney General KK Venugopal, who was representing the government, said he will get back to the court on the issue after discussion.

Chief Justice SA Bobde, who on Wednesday said that the matter must be handed over to a committee, said the body must have “independent members with knowledge of agriculture and hear both sides and give a report on what is to be done”. He said that the committee may include experts like P Sainath and representatives of the government and farmers’ bodies to will enable negotiations with farmers.

As the farmers’ protests against the three new farm laws at the Delhi border enters Day 22, the apex heard a batch of petitions seeking the removal of farmers protesting at the borders of Delhi. The court said it recognises the fundamental right to protest against a law, but, at the same time, that cannot affect other fundamental rights or right to life of others.

The top court also made it clear that it will not take a call on the validity of the contentious farm laws. “We will not decide the validity of the law today. The only thing which we will decide is the issue of protest and the right to move freely,” the bench stated at the outset of the hearing.

The apex court further added that a protest can be constitutional till it does not destroy property or endanger life. The Bench told farmers that their move to block roads has left the people of Delhi hungry.

“Blocking Delhi may lead to people in the city going hungry. Farmers’ purpose can be fulfilled by talking. Just sitting in protest won’t help,” said Chief Justice of India during the hearing.

“We are familiar with the plight of the farmers. We are Indians. We are sympathetic to the farmers. But we are on the manner of protests,” CJI Bobde said.

Referring to the farmers union, he said, “You have a right to protest which we are not going to interfere with. You carry on the protest. The purpose of protest must be served to talking to someone. You cannot sit in protest for years.”

Meanwhile, Advocate Harish Salve, appearing for one of the petitioners, said, “No right is absolute. From right to protest to right to movement. The content of the right to free speech includes the right to no but it cannot extend to the right to privacy. Right to protest does not extend to deny others to exercise their rights.” he added, “Fundamental right to protest cannot extend to holding a city to ransom.”

The top court also held that it is not possible for the court to determine the number of people who will gather at Delhi’s Ram Leela Maidan. “We cannot ask others to determine it too. We leave it for the police, not the govt or the political parties but with police,” said Bobde. He also added that the protests can continue without violence and the police will not do anything to stop them.

“We will ask the Union what can be done to alter the nature of protesting which will ensure that rights of others are not affected,” the apex court added.

Noting that the Centre’s negotiations with farmer groups did not appear to be yielding results, the court on Wednesday said it will form a committee comprising representatives of the Centre and farmer organisations to try and resolve the impasse. But the farm leaders dismissed the move as no solution.

The farmers’ protest near Delhi against the Centre’s three agricultural laws entered the 22nd day on Thursday. The farmers remain firm in their demand that the government repeals the three laws.

Tens of thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, have been protesting at key entry points to Delhi. The farmers fear the agricultural reforms will weaken the minimum support price mechanism under which the government buys agricultural produce, will lead to the deregulation of crop-pricing, deny them fair remuneration for their produce and leave them at the mercy of corporations.

With inputs from PTI

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