New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed the implementation of controversial new farm laws till further orders and decided to set up a committee to resolve the impasse over them between the Centre and farmers' unions protesting at Delhi borders.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justice A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian said that it will pass an order to this effect.
The top court stayed the implementation of the three laws - the Farmers' (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act - against which several petitions have been filed challenging their constitutional validity.
The chief justice informed that the court would form a four-member committee of Bhupinder Singh Mann, President of Bhartiya Kisan Union; Anil Ghanwat, President of Shetkeri Sangthana, Maharashtra; Pramod Kumar Joshi, director for South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute, and agriculture economist Ashok Gulati to resolve the deadlock between the government and farmers.
"We believe in the committee and we are going to constitute it. The committee will be part of judicial proceedings," legal website Live Law reported.
The chief justice said the Supreme Court has the power to suspend legislation. "But the suspension must not be for an empty purpose. We will form a committee which will submit a report to us," he said before forming the committee.
The chief justice said the committee will submit a report to the Supreme Court and that the panel will not punish anyone or pass any orders. "Every person who is genuinely interested in solving the problem is expected to go before the committee," the CJI said.
During the hearing, the top sought cooperation of the protesting farmers and made it clear that no power can prevent it from setting up a committee to resolve the impasse over the controversial farm laws.
The observation of the bench asking protesting farmers' unions to cooperate assumes significance in view of reports that they would not go to any apex court-appointed panel for resolution of the dispute and wanted the laws to be repealed.
Before pronouncing the order, the bench commenced the hearing and asked the farmers' unions to cooperate and go before the committee to be appointed by it to resolve the dispute.
"We are concerned about protecting the lives and property of citizens of India and we want to solve the problem," said the bench.
"This is not politics. There is a difference between politics and judiciary and you will have to cooperate", it said to farmer unions.
When the bench was informed that an application has been filed before it alleging that a banned organisation is extending support to the agitating farmers, the top court asked attorney general K K Venugopal about it.
Venugopal told the bench that 'Khalistanis' have infiltrated into the ongoing farmers' protest to which the bench asked him to file an affidavit in this regard. The top law officer said that he will do so by Wednesday.
The top court also issued notice on a separate application filed by the Centre through Delhi police seeking an injunction against the proposed tractor or trolley march or any other kind of protest which seeks to disrupt the gathering and celebrations of the Republic Day on January 26.
In the application, the Centre has said that it has come to the knowledge of the security agencies that a small group of protesting individuals or organisations have planned to carry out a tractor march on the Republic Day.
On Monday, the Supreme Court observed that the three laws were passed without consultation.
Meanwhile, leaders of various farmers' unions said they will hold a core committee meeting to discuss the Supreme Court orders.
Farmers from different Indian states have been staging protests, demanding the repeal of the farm laws, which farmers believe will threaten their livelihood.
The government is adamant on implementing the laws and hence it could not end the deadlock despite holding eight rounds of talks with the farmers' representatives. The ninth round of discussion is scheduled for January 15.
Farmer leaders welcome SC verdict
Farmer leaders welcomed the Supreme Court order to stay the implementation of three farm laws on Tuesday, but said they would not call off their protest until the legislations are repealed.
The Sankyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of around 40 protesting farmer unions, has called a meeting later in the day to decide the next course of action.
The farmer leaders said they are not willing to participate in any proceedings before a committee appointed by the Supreme Court, but a formal decision on this will be taken by the Morcha.
"We welcome the court's order to stay the implementation of the farm laws, but we want a complete repeal of these laws, which is our main demand," Abhimanyu Kohar, a senior leader of the Morcha, told PTI.
Another farmer leader, Harinder Lokhwal, said the protest will continue until the contentious farm laws are repealed.
"We do not have faith in the idea of a committee and we have been saying this since the very beginning, when the government had suggested the formation of a committee. But this time, it is the Supreme Court and we will see the functioning of this committee," All India Kisan Sabha (Punjab) vice-president Lakhbir Singh said.
The Morcha issued a statement on Monday, saying the unions are not willing to participate in any proceedings before a committee that may be appointed by the top court.
"We welcome the Supreme Court's decision, but it is still a stay and not a repeal of the three laws. So we will not move from here until the laws are repealed.
"The agitation will continue. We are against the idea of a committee, but there is a difference between a committee formed by the government and a committee formed by the Supreme Court," Bharatiya Kisan Union (Punjab) senior vice-president Manjeet Singh said.