India’s Supreme Court suspends farm laws; appoints independent panel

The Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended the implementation of three farm laws that have sparked farmer protests and said it will appoint a panel of experts to look into the matter for achieving a resolution.

“The committee would hear all objections to the law. Those who wish to appear before it can do so. The committee will report back to the court,” Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde said.

The four-member committee will comprise Bhupinder Singh Maan, president of Bharatiya Kisan Union, Dr Pramod Kumar Joshi, international policy head, Ashok Gulati, Agricultural Economist, and Anil Ghanwat of Shetkari Sangathana.

Protesting farmers have blocked inter-state movement on the national capital’s borders for weeks, seeking a repeal of the new laws which they say will lead to private companies domination of the farm sector.

They contend that private businesses would take over the procurement process of their produce from state-run agencies at minimum support prices, or assured prices, offered on certain staples.

They are also asking for a modification in dispute resolution process over contracts with businessmen which currently limit the appeal process to the office of Sub Divisional Magistrate and not any higher courts.

Removal of middlemen

On the other hand, the government says the new laws will free farmers from the clutches of middlemen who take away a lion’s share of their profits as well as enable them to sell their produce anywhere in the country — a freedom that did not exist under previous laws.

The three member bench headed by Justice Bobde asked the farmers to appear before the committee and submit their contention.

“Its a welcome decision of the Supreme Court. They have created a very good committee and this will resolve all the concerns of stakeholders including farmers, businessmen , politicians and middlemen,” said Binod Anand, president of Rashtriya Kisan Progressive Association (an umbrella group of 300 farmer organisations).

“I think the agitation will need to be suspended,” he added.

However, the final decision will depend upon other farmer groups as well. The protests have been mainly spearheaded by northern Indian farmers, who are more dependent on MSPs  because their main output is wheat and rice.

Farmers have threatened to stage a protest rally on tractors in the capital on January 26, when a tight cordon of security is thrown for conducting Republic Day celebrations.

Justice Bobde said the police can think about limiting the numbers who want to stage the rally and ensure that they are unharmed.

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