The Supreme Court-nominated committee to resolve the stand-off over three agricultural reform laws is “a government ploy”, farm unions said on Tuesday, pointing out that all four members of the committee have actively advocated for the reforms.
The unions reiterated their refusal to participate in the committee’s proceedings. Instead, they vowed to continue their protest “indefinitely”, including plans for a “peaceful” tractor parade in the capital on Republic Day.
“We understand that this committee is a government ploy. It is only meant to divert attention from the protest, and to reduce the pressure on the government,” said Balbir Singh Rajewal, who heads his own faction of the Bharatiya Kisan Union in Punjab.
“All members of this committee are pro-government, and they have been promoting and justifying these laws from the beginning. They have been writing in the newspapers, claiming that these laws are in farmers’ interests,” he said.
One of the proposed committee members, food and agricultural policy expert Pramod Kumar Joshi, told The Hindu he had not yet received any official communication from the Supreme Court, and would not comment until he had seen the committee’s terms of reference. He has previously characterised the farmers’ repeal demand as “bizarre”. Another member, agricultural economist Ashok Gulati, has been a long-time advocate for farm reforms and welcomed the Centre’s announcement of the new laws as “big, bold steps in the right direction which will benefit both farmers and consumers”.
The other two members of the committee — Bhupinder Singh Mann and Anil Ghanwat — head pro-reforms farmers groups. After submitting a memo to Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar last month, Mr. Mann had told The Hindu that “reforms are needed in order to make agriculture competitive”, but urged amendments along the same lines that the Centre has already proposed.
“We opposed the formation of this committee on principle, no matter who was part of it. That is why we issued a press note last night itself, as a preventive and precautionary measure. We did not ask for such a committee, we did not even go to court at all, as our struggle is with the elected government which is responsible for policy decisions,” said Krantikari Kisan Union president Darshan Pal. “However, our worries about the process are proved by the constitution of this committee, and who was chosen to be on it...this is a fraud exercise.”
Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav wondered “how the Supreme Court could be taken for a ride into appointing such a sarkari committee.” In a tweet, he claimed that “farmers would any day prefer to talk to Narendra Tomar than to such a blatantly partisan ‘expert’ committee.”
The unions said they intend to show up for the next round of talks with Central Ministers led by Mr. Tomar, scheduled for January 15. In the meanwhile, a full calendar of protest events will continue, starting with plans to burn the three farm laws for the festival of Lohri on Wednesday, which will also mark the 50th day of protest on the borders of Delhi. Women, children and senior citizens will also continue to participate in the protest, despite the Chief Justice’s appeal to send them home.
With regard to their Republic Day plans, union leaders said the Centre was misleading the Supreme Court on the issue. “We are going to protest peacefully. We don’t want to occupy Parliament. We have no plan to go to Lal Qila. On our side, violence will not be tolerated,” said Mr. Rajewal, adding that the tractor parade would take place in Delhi as well as in other locations across the country.
In a statement, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) has questioned the Supreme Court’s move to stay the implementation of the farm laws without finding them unconstitutional, saying that the order had a “political purpose”.
“It is clear from this wording of the order that the stay on the laws has been done only to give farmers a “perception” of achievement so that they may withdraw the protests. It is indeed extraordinary and highly questionable for the Supreme Court to issue orders with a political rather than a constitutional rationale,” said the statement from the CPI-ML central committee.
It also slammed the CJI’s remarks regarding women protestors. “Women are in the protests by their choice – and no one has any right to tell women where and when they should protest. The fact that the Chief Justice of India’s apex court has such scant respect for citizens’ right to protest and for women’s autonomy, is deeply disturbing,” it added.