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‘Indirect attack on the legal fraternity’ — why lawyers are also opposing new farm laws

Under one of the three new farm laws, disputes that were earlier adjudicated by civil courts will now be placed before SDMs and collectors.

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New Delhi: Thousands of farmers have been protesting at the Delhi-Haryana border for nearly two weeks now, alleging that the three new farm laws passed by the central government in September are against their interests.

The farmers, however, are not the only ones to claim their livelihoods will be affected by these laws. Members of the legal community have expressed solidarity with the farmers’ protests, noting that the new laws will adversely affect them too.

Under one of the new laws, the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act 2020, all disputes that were previously adjudicated by civil courts will now be placed before sub-divisional magistrates (SDM) or collectors. Both are members of the bureaucracy and not the judiciary.

According to the law, in case of a dispute between a farmer and a trader, the parties can seek a “mutually acceptable solution through conciliation” by filing an application before an SDM, who will then refer the dispute to a two- or four-member ‘Conciliation Board’.

If conciliation does not help, the parties can approach the SDM again, who will act as the authority to settle the dispute. The SDM’s order can be challenged before the collector.

The SDM and the collector’s orders will be equivalent to a civil court order, according to the law.

The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act 2020 also contains similar provisions, empowering the SDMs and the collectors to resolve disputes.


Also read: 5 reasons why Modi govt is finding it difficult to tackle protesting farmers


‘Detrimental to interest of legal professionals’

Excluding the jurisdiction of civil courts will, naturally, leave out lawyers who practise in these courts.

In a press release, the Bar Council of Delhi and the coordination committee of the All Bar Association of Delhi called the laws “anti-farmer, anti-public and anti-advocates”, and said these “are aimed to provide benefit to the big trading companies”.

The statement noted that “the legal fraternity is astonished as to how the Government without discussion with the farmers as well as the representatives of the Bar have gone ahead to enact the farmer bill”.

It also supported the call for Bharat Bandh by the farmers Tuesday, saying the coordination committee of all bar associations of Delhi decided to hold protests against the farm laws in all court complexes on the day.

The Bar Council of Punjab and Haryana had also released a press note Tuesday supporting the Bharat Bandh and noted that the laws were “not only detrimental to the interests of farmers but are also detrimental to the interest of lawyers”.

On 2 December, the BCD had also written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and pointed out that the laws will “substantially damage District Courts in particular and uproot the lawyers” and this will “seriously jeopardize the interest of the public, as getting justice at the doors of bureaucracy is far from reality”.

The BCD also highlighted other issues with these laws, including the amendments made to the Essential Commodities Act. The amendment removes commodities such as cereals, pulses, onion, potato and oilseeds from the essential commodities list, doing away with the stock holding limits on these.

The letter said this “left the general public to suffer at the hand of hoarders and black marketers”.

It demanded that these laws be withdrawn and introduced afresh with changes after consultations with farmers

The council had written a similar letter in September, claiming that the laws would lead to “inevitable consequences for 20 lakh advocates and their families, across the country, as they would suffer the most”.


Also read: Punjab’s frustration & anger is rooted in its steep decline, now visible in farmers’ protests


‘Unfortunate and indirect attack on legal fraternity’

According to senior lawyer Dushyant Dave, who is also the president of Supreme Court Bar Association, the farm laws are “prima facie unconstitutional and illegal”.

Dave told ThePrint that excluding civil courts jurisdiction from the laws “is a very unfortunate and indirect attack on the legal fraternity of the country, by excluding them from this vital jurisdiction”.

He termed the exclusion as unconstitutional and said: “It is bad more so because instead of giving the jurisdiction to tribunals comprising legally trained people, the farmers have been left at the mercy of sub divisional magistrates and the joint secretaries in the government. This is very unheard of and it is really sad that the farmers have been left without any remedy whatsoever.”

He also said the new laws “seek to remove all kinds of support to the farmers and leave them to fend for themselves to the wolves, i.e. the trading community”.

Former Bar Council of Delhi chairman K.C. Mittal agreed with Dave.

“You cannot put a lock on civil courts. By doing that, you are not only depriving the lawyers, but also depriving the litigant, the farmers, from getting justice,” he told ThePrint.

“At the same time, this also violates the principles of separation of powers. How can you hand over judicial functions to an ADM (additional district magistrate) or SDM who are just executive officers subordinate to the concerned ministers?” Mittal asked.

Bar Council of India requests Centre to amend laws

While the Bar Council of India clarified Monday that it has not taken any decision on the call for Bharat Bandh by farmers, chairman Manan Kumar Mishra told ThePrint that the council has “requested and demanded” the central government to make necessary amendments in the new farm laws.

In a statement, the BCI also supported the demand for adjudication of disputes not by the SDM but by a special tribunal.

“The adjudication into the grievances of the Farmers should be by a Special Tribunal presided over by a serving Judicial officer (not below the rank of Additional District Judge). The Farmers should be given liberty to engage the lawyers of their choice,” the statement read.

“There should be a time frame for decision by this forum. The Appeal against the Order decisions of such Forums may be preferred before the High Courts,” it added.


Also read: About half of farm produce sold outside APMCs anyway. But Modi govt wants one-size-fits-all


 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. People in legal profession have no scruples whatsoever and they will simply search and find ways to earn money. They will simply protest if they lose their jobs.

  2. Perhaps the two Ordinance under Agriculture Reform Bill really intended in letter and spirit. But no one has understood how it is devised to benefit few corporates under the the Ordinance umbrella. I am sure only Mr Chidambaram has understood the real intent but he is silent for reasons not known. Govt is assuring MSP shall continue because the people who devised the Ordinance inadvertently left to mention. Now MSP and Ordinance cannot go together as the beneficiaries of the Ordinance cannot bear the cost. Hope Dr. Swamy may reveal the truth.

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