Amid a deadlock in the government's negotiations with protesting farmer unions, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear on Monday a clutch of pleas challenging the new farm laws as well as the ones raising issues related to the ongoing agitation at Delhi borders.
The eighth round of talks between the Centre and the farmer unions on January 7 appeared heading nowhere as the Centre ruled out repealing the contentious laws while the farmer leaders said they are ready to fight till death and their 'ghar waapsi' will happen only after 'law waapsi'.
The Monday hearing on the pleas by a bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde assumes significance as the Centre and the farmer leaders are scheduled to hold their next meeting on January 15.
The top court, which had observed that there is no improvement on the ground regarding farmers' protests, was told by the Centre on the last date of hearing that "healthy discussions" were going on between the government and the unions over all the issues and there was good chance that both sides may come to a conclusion in the near future.
The court had then assured the government of an adjournment on January 11 provided it urges so saying that the settlement through talks was a possibility. "We understand the situation and encourage the consultation. We can adjourn the matters on Monday (January 11) if you submit the same due to the ongoing consultation process, it had said.
After the eighth round of talks, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar had said no decision could be reached as the farmer leaders did not present alternatives to their demand for the repeal of the laws.
On Saturday, a farmers' body, Consortium of Indian Farmers Associations (CIFA), moved the top court in support of the three laws and sought impleadment in the matter. It said the laws are beneficial to farmers and will enable increased income and growth of agriculture.
The apex court had earlier issued notice and sought the Centre's response on a batch of pleas against the three contentious farm laws -- the Farmers' (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.
While hearing the pleas on the issue of farmers' protest, the top court had on December 17 said that the agitation should be allowed to continue without impediment and this court will not interfere with it as the right to protest is a fundamental right.
While acknowledging the right to non-violent protest of farmers, the apex court was also of the view that their right to protest should not infringe the fundamental rights of others to move freely and in getting essential food and other supplies as right to protest cannot mean blockade of the entire city.
In its December 17 order, the bench had said, We clarify that this court will not interfere with the protest in question. Indeed the right to protest is part of a fundamental right and can as a matter of fact, be exercised subject to public order. There can certainly be no impediment in the exercise of such rights as long as it is non-violent and does not result in damage to the life and properties of other citizens and is in accordance with law."
"We are of the view at this stage that the farmers' protest should be allowed to continue without impediment and without any breach of peace either by the protesters or the police," it said. Thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, are staying put at various border points of Delhi since late November last year to protest against the laws.
Enacted in September, the three laws have been projected by the central government as major reforms in the agriculture sector that will remove the middlemen and allow farmers to sell anywhere in the country.
However, the protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that the new laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of Minimum Support Price and do away with the mandi system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates.