In a sharp change of tack, the Centre on Friday bluntly told unions opposed to the new farm laws that the legislation could not be repealed and as talks were stalemated, it would be best to leave it to the Supreme Court which is seized of the matter, to resolve the protracted dispute.
The government move to toss the ball into the apex court’s lap, a day after requesting the court not to insist on a formal response on the farm laws as talks were “progressing well”, came as a surprise to a farm union representative who attended the eight-round of discussions on Friday.
The government side argued it was ready with amendments and concessions but would not repeal the laws, implying that the unions could consider whether they might arrive at a better deal with the Centre or in the SC.
In its earlier hearings, the court had suggested setting up a committee; that included not just the agitating unions drawn mainly from Punjab, Haryana, and western UP, but; other parts of the country besides the Centre. In such a committee, all 40-odd unions who attend talks with the Centre are unlikely; to be accommodated while others may be brought in. The court is to hear the case on Monday; and the Centre and the unions decided to meet again on January 15.
After attending the talks Kavitha Kuruganti of Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch said, “It is a sad day for democracy that an elected government in the middle of talks resorts to the Supreme Court and says let’s get this resolved through the court.”
The move is indeed unusual and seems intended to present the unions with a choice of either reaching a negotiated settlement short of repeal of laws or taking their chances in the legal process before the court.
The farm groups said they would continue their protest and intensify it; and not retreat even if the SC asked them to end the stir. The unions rejected the Centre’s suggestion that farmers constitute; a small committee to take meetings forward though they later said the proposal would be discussed on January 10. BKU Ekta Ugrahan told sources, “We had no hope from this meeting and it progressed on expected lines. The government is not at all ready to repeal the laws but we are not ready for anything less.”
Krantikari Kisan Union President Darshan Pal said, “Government wants us to put our case before the Supreme Court but we are not going to represent our case in the court. Even if the Supreme Court asks us to lift the protest, we will not; lift the protest and will continue protesting peacefully.”
The farm leaders did not appear keen to take the apex court route; for resolution, saying it was an issue of “policy domain; and not just a legal or technical matter.”
With talks stalemated after the Centre agreed to with hold the new electricity Act; and remove penalties for stubble burning, the government was upfront; in ruling our repeal of laws and said objections on the constitutionally; of the laws and related matters could best be left for the SC to decide.
The farmers’ unions did not have any option other than; agreeing for talks on January 15 as they did not want to send a wrong message to the SC where the government will on January 11 submit what it has offered to the leaders.