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SC to examine whether farmers who challenged farm laws have right to protest

The top court expressed its disapproval towards holding protests when petitions challenging the farm laws are already pending before the Constitutional Court.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday said it will examine whether the farmers who have challenged the three farm laws in the court have the right to protest when the issue is sub-judice.

A Bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar said it will decide if the right to protest is an “absolute right”.

“We have to decide the legal question on when you have approached courts, then how can you protest on the same issue,” the Bench said.

The Bench was hearing a plea of Kisan Mahapanchayat, a farmers’ body, to allow it to hold Satyagraha at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi.

The apex court also remarked that though the protesters are claiming that their agitation is peaceful, they did not take responsibility for the violence and destruction of the public property there, while referring to the Lakhimpur Kheri incident.

“When such events happen nobody takes responsibility. Damage to property and physical damage caused and no one takes responsibility,” the Bench said.

Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for Centre, replied that there should be no further protests to prevent incidents like Lakhimpur Kheri.

The top court expressed its disapproval towards holding protests when petitions challenging the farm laws are already pending before the Constitutional Court.

It also asked whether those who have already approached the court against the Centre’s farm laws can claim the right to protest

“We are on principle, once you go to court and challenge executive action, how can the same party say, that matter is before the court, nevertheless I will still protest,” it added.

The Attorney General said farmers can not arrive at two houses at the same time. They have chosen their forum and if the Act is struck down then their cause is met, only courts can decide the validity of the executive action, the AG said.

Farmers' protest

The Bench said the three farm laws have already been stayed (by the top court), and there is nothing to be implemented, and asked what were the farmers protesting about?

“No one other than the court can decide the validity of the farm laws and when farmers are in court challenging the laws, why protest on street?” asked the apex court.

As the petition of Kisan Mahapanchayat challenging the three farm laws is pending before the Rajasthan High Court, the apex court ordered the transfer of the case to itself and said it will be heard arising with other pleas on the same issue.

The top court will hear the matter next on October 21.

The Farmers’ body Kisan Mahapancahyat told the Supreme Court that it is not part of the protesters blocking highways at the Delhi-NCR border.

Advocate Ajay Chaudhary appearing for the farmers’ group told the Bench that after incidents during the Republic Day parade on January 26, the Kisan Mahapanchayat separated their way from the other organizations.

In an affidavit, the group has said that it is not part of the group of protesters who have stopped or restrained police or security personnel.

On the last hearing, the Bench had pulled up Kisan Mahapanchayat for approaching the court and continuing with the protests at the same time by blocking the national highways in Delhi-NCR and said that protesting farmers have “strangulated” the entire city now want to come inside the city.

It had said that there is no purpose of protests if you come to courts while adding that protesting farmers are obstructing traffic, blocking trains and national highways and this “coaxing should stop”.

It had asked Kisan Mahapanchayat, seeking permission to allow to hold Satyagraha at Jantar Mantar, to file an affidavit that they are not part of farmers protest blocking the national highways by Monday.

“You want Satyagraha, no problem. But why have you approached court? And if you have approached the court then trust the court. The challenge to three farm laws is already pending before the court then what’s the need of Satyagrah? Once you have made up your mind and approached the court then what is the need of protest? Are you protesting against the judicial system?” Justice Khanwilkar had asked from advocate Ajay Choudhary appearing for the organisation.

Kisan Mahapanchayat had moved the top court seeking directions to the authorities to allow it to stage peaceful and non-violent ‘Satyagraha’ at Jantar Mantar, Delhi.

It sought direction from the Central Government, Lieutenant Governor and Commissioner of Delhi Police to provide space to at least 200 farmers or protestors of the Mahapanchayat at Jantar Mantar for organising ‘Satyagraha’ and to not stop them from proceeding towards Jantar Mantar.

Denying the permission of holding peaceful, unarmed and non-violent Satyagraha at the designated place at Jantar Mantar is in violation of the basic democratic rights enunciated as fundamental rights under the Constitution of India, said Kisan Mahapanchayat.

It said that the action of authorities is “discriminatory and arbitrary” as permission to protest has been granted to another farmer body, Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, while denying them to organise staggered Satyagraha.

The Kisan Mahapanchayat is a body of agricultural community and farmers which is protesting against the three farm laws.