Last week saw the government’s position swing like a pendulum on the ongoing farmers’ agitation. In the Supreme Court on Wednesday, it contradicted Chief Justice of India SA Bobde’s observation on no improvement on the ground, saying healthy discussions were on with the farmers to resolve the standoff. But during Friday’s eighth round of talks, when farmer leaders refused to consider the amendment of the three contentious agri reform laws and insisted on their total repeal, the Centre indicated the matter may have to be settled by the SC instead.
Though both sides agreed on a fresh date for talks, farmer leaders insisted it was merely to avoid blame on not being open to negotiations since the matter is in court. Apparently, the Centre played the judiciary card as a section of the unions is wary of the SC taking the call. The CJI-led Bench has already suggested setting up a panel comprising experts and stakeholders to sort out the dispute, but farmer unions are uneasy as it could give them lesser say and defuse the agitation.
As for the court’s proposal to put the three laws on ice till the matteCJOr is resolved, the Centre can’t be expected to agree, as it would militate against its right to legislate. One of the reasons why the agitation became so intense was the steep fine imposed on stubble burning around Delhi, which annually chokes the capital’s lungs.
Ironically, the penalty came on the same CJI-led Bench’s prodding as it was hearing a PIL on the compounding of winter and stubble burning making Delhi that much more vulnerable to the coronavirus. During their sixth round of talks, the Centre agreed to waive the penalty as also another demand on electricity tariffs, conceding two of the four negotiating points on the table.
And last Thursday, CJI Bobde in a different case wondered whether the protesting farmers were following Covid safety protocols, while likening them to the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi in March last year that was blamed for the first big virus outbreak in the country. The three strands taken together—the talks and the two SC hearings—suggests the kernel of a strategy to deal with the agitation. Monday’s hearing in the SC could offer further clues.