Farmer Protests Can Continue But Talks Needed: Supreme Court [17-12-2020)

New Delhi: The farmers' protest at the borders of Delhi -- which is on its 23rd day -- must continue and the national capital cannot be blocked, the Supreme Court said today while hearing a series of petitions on the issue. The court said it would refer the matter to a vacation bench and suggested that the government not take any action to implement the law till the court takes a final decision on the issue. Attorney General KK Venugopal, who was representing the government, said he get back to the court on the issue after discussion.

"We make it clear that we recognise the fundamental right to protest against a law. There is no question of balancing or curtailing it. But it should not damage anyone's life or property," said Chief Justice SA Bobde.

Justice Bobde, who said yesterday that the matter must be handed over to a committee, said it must have "independent members with knowledge of agriculture and hear both sides and give report on what is to be done". Meanwhile, the "protests can continue without violence and the police will not do anything (to stop the protests)," the Chief Justice said.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, who was representing one of the petitioners, said "Protests cannot be just for protest, but to articulate point of view," the court said, "That is exactly what we mean".

"Protest's purpose must be fulfilled by non-violent means. Protests must be about issues. Aggrieved parties must be allowed to articulate and the party that caused the problem must be allowed to answer," the Chief Justice said.

When the Centre, declaring that the farmers cannot just demand a repeal of the laws, insisted on a clause-by-clause discussion, the court said: "We observed yesterday that the Centre is not successful in negotiations. We do not think that the farmers will accept your conclusions. Let the committee decide."

Former Union Minister P Chidambaram, who was representing the Delhi government, said, "If you make so many amendments, the original law is untraceable. The farmers say this law is not acceptable. So bring a new law and let parliament discuss".

The court, which was hearing a bunch of petitions for and against the protest, said it would not take a call on the validity of the contentious farm laws passed in September that are at the heart of the furore.

"We are on the ongoing protests and fundamental rights of citizens to move free… the validity of laws will have to wait," Chief Justice Bobde said. "You can reserve these arguments for a later date," he said to Mr Chidambaram.

To farmers, the court said their move to block roads have left the people of Delhi hungry.

"We are with the plight of farmers and sympathetic to their cause. But you have to alter the way it is going. You have to convince and bring out the solution," the Chief Justice told the representatives of the BHaratiya Kisan Union, which was also in court.  

"We are saying it to you. You have a right to protest. We are not going to interfere. You carry on protests. Your protest has a purpose, and that must be fulfilled by talking to someone. You simply cannot sit on protest for years," the court said.

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17 Dec 2020