Shapeshifting expectations: What the critics of the SC order on farm laws won’t admit

History has repeated itself, only this time as a farce. Less than a year back the Supreme Court, with due apologies to it, blurred the line in the context of the Shaheen Bagh agitation. It formed a mediation panel to arbitrate an issue that lay purely in the administrative domain. When that yielded no results, the SC declared the protest illegal.

The ruling would have forced the Centre, the main beneficiary of the verdict, to evict protestors. Fortunately, before the court ruled Covid-19 intervened, the protestors left of their own accord. Had this not happened the Centre would have had to implement an order that would have possibly led to violence.

Now, once again the Apex court has intruded into what can only be described as an area beyond its remit. It has dismayingly stayed the three farm laws passed by Parliament on grounds that have very little to do with Constitutionality. By its own admission the passing of the “extraordinary” order was necessitated to assuage the “hurt feelings” of the farmers.

Would it be contemptuous to remind their Lordships that they aren’t tasked with repairing broken hearts but are the dispensers of a dispassionate justice? For a Constitutional court to pass an order without going into constitutionality is fraught with larger consequences.

Having not learnt any lessons from the Shaheen Bagh fiasco the learned justices once again set up a mediation panel to engage the anti-farm law protestors. Someone of course forgot to tell the Apex Court that mediators must not only be fair but also be seen to be fair. The farmers can’t be faulted by baulking at the prospect of joining negotiations with the mediators – who to the last man – have supported the contentious farm laws.

And it isn’t just about the ideological antecedents of the mediators. By setting up an expert panel to examine the desirability and impact of the three farm laws the Supreme Court is also stepping into the domain of the legislature. If an expert opinion is to be relied upon then surely what better place to refer the laws than to an expert committee of Parliament.

Clearly, the Supreme Court in this matter has a lot to explain. But having said that, serial supplicants looking to the Supreme Court for intervention against a less than “trustworthy” government also have a lot to answer for. It can’t be that the Supreme Court is faulted for intervening in the farm laws matter because the issue has been adjudged as “purely political”.

By that yardstick the Supreme Court should also be criticised for agreeing to adjudicate several other “purely political’’ issues. Simply put, if the Supreme Court today stands accused of “shapeshifting” then so do a select group of partisans who are consistently inconsistent about their own expectations from the top Court.

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