- Supreme Court said it was trying to solve the problem in the best way
- "We are staying three farm laws until further orders," Chief Justice said
- Centre told court the laws were results of two decades of deliberations
The three new laws at the heart of massive farmer protests near Delhi will not come into force for now. The Supreme Court today pressed pause on the laws enacted in September in a huge blow to the government. The top court also said a committee of agricultural experts would take over negotiations with farmers to end the crisis, and called it a "victory of fair play".
"We are staying three farm laws until further orders," Chief Justice SA Bobde said, announcing the order.
"While we may not stifle a peaceful protest, we think that this extraordinary order of stay of implementation of the farm laws will be perceived as an achievement of the purpose of such protest at least for the present and will encourage the farmers bodies to convince their members to get back to their livelihood, both in order to protect their own lives and health and in order to protect the lives and properties of others."
The government had told the court that the laws "were not hurriedly made", that they were the result of two decades of deliberations.
In eight rounds of talks with farmers' unions over the past month, the government had firmly ruled out withdrawing the laws but had offered to make amendments.
Noting that "no solution was in sight", the Supreme Court said it was trying to solve the problem in the best way and had the power to suspend the laws.
"These are matters of life and death. We are concerned with laws. We are concerned with lives and property of people affected by the agitation. We are trying to solve the problem in the best way. One of the powers we have is to suspend the legislation," the Chief Justice said.
"We want to solve the problem and that's why we are making the committee," he added.
The names suggested by the Supreme Court include agricultural economist Ashok Gulati, Anil Ghanwat (Shetkari Sanghatana), Bhupinder Singh Mann (former Rajya Sabha) and Pramod Joshi (International Food Policy Research Institute). All four are known to support the farm laws.
Former Chief Justice of India RM Lodha, widely tipped to head the panel, told NDTV he had declined the offer.
The top court also issued notice to farmers' unions on a Delhi Police plea to stop a tractor rally on January 26, during Republic Day parade.
The judges rebuffed the lawyer for protesting farmers, ML Sharma, as he said farmers would not participate in the committee as Prime Minister Narendra Modi had refused to talk to them. "We cannot ask the PM anything, he is not a party before us," said the Chief Justice.
"This is not politics. There is a difference between politics and judiciary and you will have to cooperate."
Yesterday, the Supreme Court had said it was "extremely disappointed" by the government's handling of the crisis.
"Each one of us we will responsible if anything goes wrong. We don't want any injuries or blood on our hands. Who is going to be responsible for bloodshed if any," the Chief Justice had said in a series of sharp comments.
The farmers, protesting on highways outside Delhi since late November, have said they will accept nothing short of the government cancelling the laws, which they believe will deprive them of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) – the guaranteed cost at which the government buys from them -- and leave them at the mercy of corporates. They have refused to buy the central government's argument that the laws will bring long-delayed reforms in the agriculture sector by doing away with middlemen and allowing farmers to sell anywhere in the country.
The court said today that with its stay order, "the Minimum Support Price System in existence before the enactment of the Farm Laws shall be maintained until further orders. In addition, the farmers' land holdings shall be protected, i.e., no farmer shall be dispossessed or deprived of his title as a result of any action taken under the Farm Laws."