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Do farmers have right to protest if laws have been challenged in SC? Bench to examine

A Supreme Court bench said right to protest was not absolute and validity of farmers protests was under question since farm laws were already in abeyance.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court Monday said it will examine whether those protesting against farm laws have a right to do so even after challenging the contentious legislations in the top court.

A bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar noted that the right to protest was not absolute and since the three laws had been put in abeyance by the court in January, it wondered how valid the ongoing protests were. It will next hear the matter on 21 October.

The bench also expressed concern over the violence in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri Sunday, which left eight people dead, verbally observing that when “such incidents happen, no one takes responsibility for it”.

The bench was hearing a petition filed by farmers’ body Kisan Mahapanchayat, which is seeking permission to stage a satyagraha at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar. In its plea, the body had promised to strictly comply with Covid protocols.

In response to an earlier court order, the Kisan Mahapanchayat had filed an undertaking stating that it was neither part of the protests at Delhi’s borders nor had it caused any permanent or temporary blockage of traffic.

However, the bench noted that once someone approaches the court challenging the validity of a law, there is no question of protests.

“Once you have come to the court, you have exercised your option,” the bench said, reminding the lawyer for the Kisan Mahapanchayat that it had also filed a petition in the Rajasthan High Court seeking repeal of the laws.

Also read: Murder case for those involved in farmers’ death in Lakhimpur — Varun Gandhi writes to Yogi

‘Once matter is in court, no one should be on road’: SG Mehta

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal was also asked for his assistance in the matter and he agreed with the bench’s view.

Venugopal said when a large number of petitions have already been filed against the laws before the top court, there should be no protests.

He also made a reference to the Lakhimpur Kheri incident and termed it as “unfortunate”,  adding that the government was also very clear on the subject and that it would not withdraw the law.

“So the only choice for them is to take forward their challenge to the three laws,” the AG said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the central government, also made similar submissions.

“Once the matter is in the highest constitutional court, no one should be on the roads. They must trust this institution,” he said.

After this, the court ordered the transfer of the petition filed by the Mahapanchayat before the Rajasthan HC to itself.

“Since you have already taken this issue to the court, let us transfer the case here and decide it once for all,” the bench said.

It added that the court would look into the “principle” of whether protests should be allowed once there is a legal challenge to an executive action.

“How can a party that is already before a court say, nevertheless, I will still protest?” the court remarked.

Also read: FIR registered against MoS Ajay Mishra’s son, others in connection with Lakhimpur violence

Notice issued to 43 farmer leaders

Meanwhile, in a related petition, a bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul issued notice to 43 protest leaders on a plea opposing the blockading of roads due to the protests at Delhi’s borders.

The notice was issued on an application filed by the Haryana government. The court is already seized of a petition filed by a Noida resident seeking direction to remove the protesting farmers.

In his brief submission at this hearing, on behalf of the Haryana government, SG Mehta said the state had set up a committee to hold talks with the leaders representing the protesting farmers, but they had refused to come for a meeting.

(Edited by Rachel John)

Also read: NSS survey on farmers is a mid-term report card of Modi’s promise, with ‘fail’ written over it


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