Press Trust of india

Farmers agitation: SC to examine if protest permitted when matter is sub-judice

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court Monday said it would examine if organisations or individuals who have moved Constitutional court challenging the validity of a legislation are permitted to hold protest on the same issue when the matter is sub-judice.

While hearing a plea filed by a farmers’ body which is protesting against the three new farm laws and is seeking directions to authorities to allow it to stage ‘satyagrah’ at Jantar Mantar here, the apex court asked what are they protesting for when it has already stayed these legislations.

A bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and C T Ravikumar also asked the organisation, which has already challenged the validity of the three laws before the Rajasthan High Court, why they want to hold protest when they are “not in force at all”.

“You want to go for protest. Protest on what? There is no Act in place at the moment. It is stayed by this court. The government has assured that they will not give effect to it, then protest for what,” the court observed.

The bench asked Attorney General K K Venugopal that once a party has approached the court challenging the validity of the Act, then where is the question of going for protest.

“They can’t ride two horses at the same time,” said Venugopal and also referred to the “unfortunate” incident at Lakhimpur Kheri on Sunday in which eight people were killed in the violence that erupted during a farmers’ protest.

The bench said when such incidents happen, nobody takes the responsibility.

When the top law officer contended that the protest should stop, the bench said nobody takes the responsibility when there is damage to property and physical damage is caused.

Venugopal said the government has made it very clear they are not going to withdraw these three laws and therefore, the option for the petitioner is to take forward their challenge to these legislations.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said once the matter is before the highest Constitutional court, nobody can be on the streets on the same issue.

Advocate Ajay Choudhary, appearing for petitioner ‘Kisan Mahapanchayat’ and its president, told the bench that they have filed an affidavit in the court and stated that petitioner is neither a part of protestors who have been stopped by police at any national highway nor involved in any activity causing blockage on roads.

“After hearing counsel for the concerned parties and the Attorney General for India, we deem it appropriate to examine the principal issue as to whether the right to protest is an absolute right and more so, the writ petitioner, having already invoked the legal remedy before the Constitutional court by filing writ petition, should be permitted or can assert that he can still resort to protest with regard to the same subject matter which is already sub-judice,” the bench said.

It said the plea, which was filed by the petitioner challenging the validity of these laws and is pending before the Rajasthan High Court, be transferred to the apex court so that it can be heard together along with this matter.

“We direct the registry to immediately take steps to summon the record of stated writ petition from the Rajasthan High Court and to register it as a transferred case for being heard along with the present writ petition on the next date, scheduled on October 21,” the bench said.

The bench said that respondents in both the petitions can file their response, if any, and it would be open to the Centre to file a consolidated reply in both the matters.

During the hearing, the bench observed that it would like to know when the petitioner has already challenged the laws before the high court, why should it be permitted to protest.

It said no one else, other than the court, can adjudicate on validity of law.

Choudhary said that protest by the petitioner is not limited only to enactment and their agitation is also on the issue of minimum support price.

“What is the point of protesting at Jantar Mantar?” the bench asked.

To this, Choudhary said, “Because the Union of India has enacted these laws”.

“So, you have come back to the law and when you have challenged the law, why should you be permitted to protest. It cannot be together. You have challenged it and you go on protest outside. You choose one option, either you choose the court or go to the road,” the bench observed.

Venugopal said a large number of other petitions have also been filed in the apex court where these three laws have been challenged.

He said as the apex court would hear the matter related to challenge to these laws, the petitioner should not continue with the protest.

The petitioner’s counsel said the protest is necessary to persuade the government to recall these laws.

“Government is also bound by the solemn legislative decision. Is it not? The law is enacted by parliament, not the government,” the bench observed.        While hearing the matter on October 1, the top court had told the petitioner, “You have strangulated the entire city and now you want to come inside and start protest here again.”

Several farmer organisations are protesting against the passage of three laws — The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 and Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020.

Initially, the protests started from Punjab in November last year and later spread mainly to Delhi, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh.

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