The Supreme Court Has No Business Imposing A Mediation Panel On Government Or Farmers

The Supreme Court  Has No Business Imposing A Mediation Panel On Government Or FarmersThe Supreme Court of India. (Wikimedia Commons)
Snapshot
  • The court is repeatedly setting bad precedents by intruding into legislative spaces, even if its intentions are presumed to be good.

The only merit in the Supreme Court’s move to constitute a committee to find a solution to the farmer protests is that it may give the latter a face-saver to come back to the negotiating table. But some of the protest leaders have already said that a new committee is not needed, since their demand is for total repeal of the three farm laws legislated by Parliament. We may be back to square one even before the court panel can begin mediation.

The petitioner who moved the Supreme Court bench headed by the Chief Justice cited the court’s judgement in the Shaheen Bagh case, which held that protesters cannot block public spaces, and that too “indefinitely”. Protests must be held in “designated” spaces. But, instead of underlining its own stand as the bedrock, the bench suggested that the petitioners were not parties directly involved in the matter.

Live Law quotes Chief Justice S A Bobde as telling the Solicitor General: “SG, we see that the petitions are ill-conceived and there are no legal issues before us. The only party before us who has blocked the road is you.” He added that the petition involved people who were not parties to the dispute.

This is a bit rich, even though off-hand observations by the bench in a pending matter do not constitute a decision on the petition itself.

It is worth recalling that the Sabarimala judgement was the result of a petition by four young lawyers who had no stake in how the shrine regulates entry of women in the reproductive age. But that didn’t stop the court from making it a women’s rights issue and systemic exclusion.

It is also worth noting that the right to move freely in public spaces is not an absolute one. Protesters need police permission for any procession or march before they can move about freely in cities, causing inconvenience to the public. If the Delhi Police are blocking entry to thousands of farmers driving tractors to the city’s borders, they may have good reason to stop them there, and allow only some of them to march into Delhi.

In the past, tractors and trucks have indeed been used for protests and political rallies, but these are usually authorised by the police, and the crowds have to stick to designated places and not block city roads and spaces endlessly. The Shaheen Bagh verdict is the relevant verdict to quote here.

The other problem in being dismissive about the locus standi of the petitioners, who want the protesters to be dispersed, is that every citizen has the same right as protesters to use public spaces. And so they, ipso facto, can be parties with skin in the game.

Setting up a committee to look only into farmer demands when they are not the only stakeholders is doubly problematic. How can any issue involving minimum support prices not impact consumers? Should consumers not be a party to the discussions?

However, the real legal issue that the court seems unconcerned about is the larger one: why should courts intervene in this matter at all? They have a right to decide on the legality of the laws, but not impose themselves – either directly or through a committee – on which way a middle ground should be found.

Let’s assume that tomorrow the courts hold that the three farm reform bills are legally valid. If farmers then park themselves outside the Supreme Court demanding that the verdict be withdrawn, will the court set up a committee to mediate on its judgement? If the answer is an obvious no, then on what basis can the courts seek to pressure the government to dilute its own laws, passed by Parliament?

The court is repeatedly setting bad precedents by intruding into legislative spaces, even if its intentions are presumed to be good.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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