SC 'sympathetic' but wants farmers to hold talks

Supreme Court 'sympathetic' to cause but wants farmers to hold talks

The court sought to know from Attorney General K K Venugopal if the Union government can say no executive action will be taken under the three laws to facilitate the negotiations

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for a petitioner, suggested that the court may pass an order directing the authorities and police to ensure that the life in the city was not affected by the blockade. Credit: AFP Photo

The Supreme Court on Thursday acknowledged the farmers right to protest against the three recently passed agricultural laws but emphasised that they must hold talks to resolve the issues, arising out of blockade of Delhi roads, and to serve their purpose.

"We are familiar with the plight of the farmers. We are Indians. We are sympathetic to the farmers. But we are on (looking into) the manner of protest. 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," a bench presided over by Chief Justice S A Bobde told a farmers' union.

Farmers' protest live updates on DH

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for a petitioner, suggested that the court may pass an order directing the authorities and police to ensure that the life in the city was not affected by the blockade. 

"It is high time that a declaration comes from this court regarding the contours of the right to protest," Salve said, adding no right is absolute and the fundamental right to protest cannot extend to holding the city to ransom.

Nobody can have a quarrel with what Salve said, the court said, adding that it can pass an order only after hearing the farmers' unions.

"There is a protest that is going on. It is constitutional as long as it does not damage property and lives. It is an absolutely perfect protest. But the purpose cannot be realised if they continue to sit without talking. They have to talk to each other," the bench said.

Also read — Farmers' protest: Traffic disrupted on Delhi's key routes, thousands stay put at border points

Salve again stressed the cause of the protest cannot be protest. "The cause of protest is to articulate a view. Protests for the sake of protests are a public nuisance," he said. He asked the court to ensure the government put a protocol that a person calling for the protests will identify himself so that he can be held accountable for damages.

The court, however, sought to know from Attorney General K K Venugopal if the Union government can say no executive action will be taken under the three laws to facilitate the negotiations.

Venugopal sought time to take instructions, though initially expressing difficulty. He also pointed out that the farmers' unions had put a condition for repeal before talks. 

"The damage caused by 22 days of the blockade is enormous. People are not able to go for jobs. Ambulances are not permitted to move. Also, there is a risk of coronavirus. When protesters go back to their villages, they will spread coronavirus like wildfire," he said.

Venugopal also maintained they cannot say either repeal or will continue their protests indefinitely. 

"They have come prepared for six months. This kind of blockades cannot be permitted. This happens only during a war where you cut off supply, etc and block borders," he said.

The court, for its part, again suggested forming an independent panel to resolve the matter. It broached up the name of noted journalist P Sainath for the purpose. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta agreed that some persons of eminence could facilitate a talk.

The court directed for serving a notice to various farmers' unions and indicated to put the matter for consideration on Saturday before another bench. The court is going for winter vacations from Saturday.

Taking up a batch of pleas, the bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, clarified that the petitions filed by DMK M P Tiruchi Siva and RJP Manoj K Jha against the validity of laws would be taken up subsequently. The court took up matters which raised the issues of inconvenience to the public caused by the blockade of roads of Delhi.

It was also contended before the court that the farmers' leaders had refused to speak when they were contacted after Wednesday's proceedings.

The court did not agree to a suggestion for letting the farmers protest at Ramleela Maidan here, saying it was for the police to determine it on the basis of intelligence inputs.

During the hearing, Chidambaram, appearing for the Punjab government, expressed serious reservation with Salve's arguments but agreed to a suggestion for a group of people facilitating talks between the Union government and farmers.