Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad A. Bobde said it had become “almost a cultural thing” to brand people while lashing out at articles hinting the possibility of “bias” on the part of members of an expert committee constituted by the Supreme Court to intercede between the protesting farmers and the government.
“They [committee members] are brilliant minds in the field of agriculture... Branding of people whom you do not want, this has become almost like a cultural thing. You malign people’s reputation and then you say the court is interested in these people... I am sorry that this kind of opinions are appearing in the Press,” he stated.
There was criticism in social media and articles in newspapers over the court’s choice of members of the committee constituted on January 12.
The opinions published said the members had previously written in favour of the farm laws. Write-ups indicated that the members may not be empathetic to the cause of the farmers, who have been protesting at the Delhi borders for nearly 50 days, for repeal of the laws. Amid this, one of the committee members, Bhupinder Singh Mann, recused himself from the committee.
“You unthinkingly cast aspersions on people. Bhupinder Singh Mann had even asked for modifications of the laws, can you say he is in favour of the laws... Or is it that you do not want people to have opinions? Even the best judges have opinions, though he can give a judgment against his own personal opinions... Have you not found in the body-politic people expressing an opinion and changing them once informed?" Chief Justice Bobde addressed some lawyers appearing for farmers.
“Members’ reputation hit”
The court said the reputation of the members have been torn to shreds. The committee had been given no power to decide on the farm laws. They have been constituted only to hear out the farmers.
“We formed the committee only to hear the farmers’ grievances and submit a report to the court. They were given no adjudicatory powers. So, where is the question of bias here? If you don't want to appear before the committee, don’t. But why cast aspersions on the court and brand people. We did not want to intervene, but we did only for the sake of the common people and the farmers,” Chief Justice of India Bobde said.
Newspaper reports do not decide disputes in court, he pointed out.
“We are adjudicating the dispute. Are we going to read newspapers and decide disputes? Public opinions cannot be used to determine court proceedings,” he said.
Senior advocate Harish Salve, for a petitioner supporting the farm laws, said the court should record the fact that the expert committee had no adjudicatory powers. He said he would seek contempt action if anything appeared maligning the court or the committee members in future despite the court’s order.
The Bench recorded the brief given to the committee in its order, especially that it does not have any adjudicatory power.
The court also decided to examine a plea made by Kisan Maha Panchayat, a farmers’ body from Rajasthan, to fill the vacancy left by Mr. Mann on the committee.