The Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed the implementation of three laws deregulating India’s agriculture markets, saying it will give further orders. The court set up a committee of agriculture experts to take over negotiations between the government and farmer unions.
A three-judge bench served notice to various farmers unions for their plan to drive tractors to Delhi on Republic Day to protest against the contested laws.
"These are matters of life and death. We are concerned with laws. We are concerned with lives and property of people affected by the agitation. We are trying to solve the problem in the best way. One of the powers we have is to suspend the legislation," Chief Justice SA Bobde said, according to NDTV.com.
“This is not politics. There is a difference between politics and judiciary and you will have to cooperate,” the bench, headed by Bobde and comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, was quoted as saying by news agency PTI about the government.
The court's committee will comprise Bhupinder Singh Mann of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, Anil Ghanwat of Shetkari Sanghatana, Dr Pramod Kumar Joshi and agricultural economist Ashok Gulati, said the Indian Express website. The court said it will resume hearing on Monday.
The court rebuffed a lawyer for farmers, ML Sharma, as he said his clients would not participate in the committee as Prime Minister Narendra Modi had refused to talk to them. "We cannot ask the PM anything, he is not a party before us," said Bobde. "We will stay implementation of the three farm laws".
The verdict comes a day after the court chided on the Narendra Modi government for failing to break a deadlock with farmers protesting against reforms of the agricultural sector.
Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped on the outskirts of the capital, New Delhi, for more than a month, and have promised to march during Republic Day celebrations on January 26, against what they see as laws benefiting large private buyers at the expense of producers.
Bobde said on Monday the drawn-out confrontation was causing distress to farmers. “We are not experts on economy; you tell us whether government is going to put on hold farm laws or we will do this,” he said. “We are sorry to say that Centre has not been able to solve the problem and the farmers’ agitation.”
The government says the laws aimed at modernising an antiquated agricultural system, which suffers from colossal wastage and bottlenecks in the supply chain. But farm leaders say the laws are an attempt to erode a longstanding minimum support price for their crops and they want a full repeal of the laws.
The government has said there was “no question” of this happening, and eight rounds of talks have failed to find common ground.