The farmers' protest will soon become a "national issue", the Supreme Court said today, suggesting that a solution be found urgently through negotiations. The Centre's negotiations "do not work and is bound to fail again," the court said, suggesting a panel be formed with representatives from all stakeholders -- the farmers' associations as well as government nominees. The court has issued notice to the Centre as well as the Delhi, Punjab and Haryana governments and said they will have to respond by tomorrow before winter vacation begins.
Five rounds of meetings have taken place between the government and the representatives of thousands of farmers who have been protesting at the borders of the national capital. Union Home Minister Amit Shah also met the farmers. But the farmers have rejected the government's offer to make amendments to the three new laws enacted in September. They want the laws scrapped altogether and say mere assurances on MSP will not do.
"The government was and is ready for negotiations," the Centre told the top court, which was hearing a batch of petitions on the protest. "The difficulty is the farmers' 'yes or no' approach. Different ministers talked to them, but they turned their chairs back and did not talk," the Centre said.
"It appears now some other interests have taken over the farmers protests," the government added, without naming the opposition, whom it has repeatedly accused of inciting the farmers.
To the government's assurance that it would not "do anything against the farmers", Chief Justice SA Bobde, who was leading the bench hearing the cases, said, "What's the point of saying so when it is adversely affecting them?"
"Your negotiation will again fail as they won't agree. Give us names of organizations that can be before us... This will soon become a national issue and will have to solved through negotiations," Justice Bobde added.
He asked the petitioners to make protesting farmers' associations party to their petitions and they will have to be heard.
"Why farmers associations were not made party to the case and without hearing them, how orders can be passed?" Justice Bobde questioned and asked the Solicitor General to provide the names of the associations to the petitioners.
A series of petitions were filed before the Supreme Court, both for and against the protest.
One petition wanted the protesters to be removed to a designated place in view of the coronavirus outbreak. Another sought the court's direction to the Centre to consider the farmers' demands. It also wants the National Human Rights Commission to investigate if there was any police assault on the farmers.
A third petition wants the top court to allow the farmers enter Delhi and protest at Jantar Mantar.
One of the petitioners argued that proper care like shelter, sanitation, food to be provided to farmers at the borders and wanted an amicable solution to the issue.
"Most of these petitions appear to be ill-conceived. We don't see any legal issue except freedom of movement that is admittedly caused by people who are not party before us," Justice Bobde said.
Tens of thousands of farmers have been camping on the outskirts of Delhi since late November, demanding the government repeal the laws that they say will eventually dismantle the country's regulated markets and leave them open to exploitation by private buyers.
Earlier today, sources said the government was likely to discuss the possibility of exempting key states like Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh from farm bills and giving an assurance that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) mechanism will continue at today's Union cabinet meeting.