‘They are best in agriculture’: Supreme Court frowns upon plea seeking reconstitution of panel, asks farmers not to malign members’ reputation

by Joseph K. Clark

Supreme Court of India

Farm laws: The Supreme Court on Wednesday came down hard on protesting farmers saying they can choose to not appear before the committee, but they can not malign the reputation of its members. The SC has appointed a four-member committee to look into the issues raised by the protesting farmers and submit its report before the court. However, Bhupinder Singh Mann, one of the members, has been recused from the committee following controversy over his expressed stand on farm laws. The agitating farmers had refused to appear before the committee said all its members are supportive of laws. Therefore, no justice can be expected.


Today, Kisan Mahapanchayat moved an application seeking the number of members to be increased in the committee. Appearing for the Mahapanchayat, advocate Ajay Choudhary said that the number of members should be increased in the committee as all the four (now three) members have already expressed their opinion about the farm laws. “The persons sitting in committee should have open minds, and they must be equal,” he said.

This irked CJI Bobde, who said that “you people unthinkingly cast aspersions on people”. He said Bhupinder Singh Mann had called for amendments in the laws, but farmers cannot brand people like this. “People should have an opinion. What people should have no opinion? Even judges express opinions…branding people has become a cultural thing now,” the CJI said. He said somebody has expressed an opinion, “so you think there is bias”.

“If you don’t want to appear, then don’t appear. But don’t brand people and malign them, and on top of that, you cast aspersions on the court,” the CJI said.

Ever since the top court named the committee members, a section of activists, lawyers, and political parties have raised questions over the selection, suggesting this was meant to take pressure off the government and help it through the committee. The other three committee members are well-known agriculture economist Ashok Gulati, Shetkari Sangathan President Anil Ghanwat, Pramod Kumar Joshi of International Food Policy Research Institute.

All three members have backed the Centre on-farm laws. Pointing to their stand, Congress recently held a press conference saying all the committee members were with the government on the issue, so there was no hope of any meaningful resolution. Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala showed various articles written by the members in support of the laws.

Today, the CJI said that the court has serious reservations that committee members were called names. “You malign people according to the majority opinion. I am disappointed to see what has been reported in the press,” he said. He further said that all three members are the most brilliant people in agriculture today. “But you just maligned them for some opinion expressed in the past…every judge on a case now had expressed a different opinion at some point of time. In this body politic, haven’t you seen opinions change when contrary points are heard. The Supreme Court has appointed someone, and you shred their reputation,” the CJI said.

The CJI said that the court had conferred no adjudication powers to the committee. “The purpose of appointment of the committee was clear to listen to the grievances of parties affected by the laws…adjudicatory powers have not been conferred on the committee. The role of the committees was to hear affected parties by farm acts and make a report to the court,” the court said.

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