The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered a stay of the implementation of the contentious three new farm laws hoping this will end the prolonged protests by the farmers and also constituted a four-member panel of agri experts to resolve the impasse between their leaders and the Centre.
The committee members are:
• Bhupinder Singh Mann, National President of Bhartiya Kisan Union, All India Kisan Coordination Committee
• Dr Parmod Kumar Joshi, Director for South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute
• Ashok Gulati, agricultural economist and former chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices
• Anil Ghanwat, President of Shetkari Sanghatana.
However, according to multiple reports, all four members of the Supreme Court-appointed panel are unanimously in support of the farm laws and have talked of pro-farm reform policies in reference to the issue at hand, confirming the apprehension of the protesting farmers regarding the panel.
Among the panel members, Anil Ghanwat is a "strong advocate" of Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led central government's farm reforms, India Today reported. He had earlier been openly supporting the farm laws, the report elaborated, and had said back in December last year that if the government withdrew the farm laws, no political party in the future will ever manage to bring agricultural reforms.
The same report also sheds more light on the other panel members. Bhupinder Singh Mann, a Punjab-based farmers' union leader of his own sect of the BKU, had reportedly "met Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar in December last year and submitted a memorandum supporting the farm laws with some amendment."
Although a supporter of the reforms in general, he had, however, penned a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September last year, suggesting some amendments to the farm laws.
The other members, Dr Ashok Gulati and Dr Pramod Kumar Joshi, well-known agricultural economist and scientist, respectively, are also in support of the farm laws, according to a report by The Quint.
Dr Gulati was the former chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), the advisory body of the Government of India on food supplies and pricing policies. Apparently, he had argued in one of his articles that farm laws are "a step in the right direction" and that the reforms will "help in improving price realisation for the farmers".
On the other hand, Dr Joshi, too, had in one of his articles argued that the new laws will open up "alternate marketing opportunities" for the farmers.
Farmers apprehensive of SC-appointed panel
In their response to what the apex court called an "extraordinary" order of stay, the farmer unions made it clear they will not call of the protests until the three laws enacted in September are repealed.
The leaders of the unions also claimed the members of the court-appointed committee tasked to listen to their grievances are "pro-government", and asserted they will not appear before it.
"The members of the SC-appointed committee are not dependable as they have been writing on how agri laws are pro-farmer. We will continue our agitation," Balbeer Singh Rajewal, a farmers' leader, said.
He said unions never demanded that the apex court form a committee to resolve the impasse, alleging the Central government is behind these developments.
"We are against the committee in principle. It is the government's way to distract attention from the protest." The farmer leaders also claimed that the Supreme Court can repeal the farm laws suo motu(on its own).
Another farmer leader Darshan Singh said they will not appear before any committee, adding Parliament should discuss and resolve this issue.
"We don't want any external committee," he said.
However, the farmer leaders said they would attend the January 15 meeting with the government.
"It is clear that the court is being misguided by various forces even in its constitution of a committee. These are people who are known for their support to the three Acts and have actively advocated for the same," said a statement issued by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC).
The committee has been instructed by the Supreme Court to submit a report before the court, upon hearing the government as well as the representatives of the farmers' bodies, and other stakeholders, containing its recommendations within two months from the date of its first sitting.
The first sitting shall be held within ten days from today (Tuesday), it added.
The court said the proposed committee shall be provided a place as well as secretarial assistance at Delhi by the government and all the expenses to hold sittings at Delhi or anywhere else shall be borne by the Centre.
Thousands of farmers, mostly from Haryana and Punjab, are protesting at Delhi borders since November 28 last, demanding a repeal of the three laws and a legal guarantee to the Minimum Support Price (MSP) system for their crops.