When all other avenues to secure the genuine demands of a vast majority of the population fail to work, the sufferers are left with only one option — to protest. This is what the aggrieved farmers have been doing for over a year now, spending 10 of those months at the borders of Delhi, facing all kinds of difficulties. Some other sections of society might also be getting affected, as a result, but when it comes down to the very survival of those who are feeding the nation, others need to sympathise.
FOR: Dr Darshan Pal
The farmers are not sitting on the roads by choice; the government has forced them to do so. When the ‘Bharat Bandh’ was observed on September 27 across the nation, some sections of society, including a section of media, tried to project that common people have suffered a lot during the shutdown, which is not the case since this suffering is for a few hours only. What about the suffering of those who are protesting on the streets and highways for months together?
Similarly, about a year ago, when farmer organisations announced that farmers from across the country would reach Delhi on November 26 and 27 to raise their voices for repeal of three agricultural laws and the legal guarantee of minimum support price for all farmers and for all crops, pro-government voices tried to tarnish the image of the farmers’ struggle by portraying that the dharna caused a lot of difficulties for the common people of Delhi and Haryana.
But the fact is that the representatives of unions applied to the Delhi government and the Union home ministry to allow them to converge at Ramlila ground, but the home ministry denied permission for assembly of the farmers for two days. The protesters were stopped at the borders of Delhi with huge barricading, with tear gas shelling and water cannons. Then the farmers decided to sit on the Delhi-Haryana and Delhi-UP borders.
People who have residences and businesses on both sides of the highways welcomed the farmers, provided shelter and other amenities to tide over the chill in the last week of November. Even so, the farmers have faced a lot of difficulties in the past 10 months.
Presently, while farmers are squatting in the middle, roads on both sides are open for commuters for entry to or exit from Delhi. The farmers and their union leaders have had regular interactions, discussions and meetings with representatives of surrounding villages, of residential colonies and owners of industries to understand their problems and mutually resolve them.
A sadbhavna mission involving local residents has been implemented to resolve traffic problems, to encourage the participation of the local people directly in the programmes announced by Samyukt Kisan Morcha and to organise medical camps on four days a week. Thrice a week, eye camps are being organised where till now, hundreds of operations have been carried out. Every Sunday, a mega medical camp is being organised for different diseases especially for the people residing in neighbouring areas. For those residing nearby, langar, drinking water and even oxygen langar during the second wave of Covid were organised successfully.
During these months, some individuals and forces in the surrounding villages and residential colonies, under the influence of some forces of the government and perhaps some agencies, tried to organise some marches and panchayats to get the roads opened, but the masses at large did not respond to their calls.
The farmers and their organisations came to Delhi because it is a seat of power. It is here in Delhi that the agricultural policies, the three ordinances and the three laws were framed; the minimum support price is decided. It is here that rulers of India sitting in Parliament and North Block frame the policies in favour of corporates and capitalists. That is why farmers are sitting at the borders of Delhi, and raising their voice.
After the farmers have surrounded the political capital for all these months, this struggle is now expanding through the length and breadth of India. The Samyukt Kisan Morcha has rightly raised the slogan to punish BJP for its egoistic and anti-people approach. People greet us for freeing the toll plazas and boycotting products and services of select corporates.
In the last 10 months, more than 600 farmers have laid down their lives. Farmers are worried for their land and livelihood and feel that it will all be at the mercy of corporates. To save all that they hold dear, more and more farmers will come onto the roads.
Pal is president of Kisan Krantikari Union, Punjab
When the courts are called upon to examine the reasonableness of a legislative restriction on the exercise of a freedom, the fundamental duties enunciated under Article 51A are relevant. Article 51A requires an individual to abide by the law, safeguard public property and abjure violence. It also requires the individual to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of the country. Part IV of the Constitution relates to Directive Principles of State Policy. Article 38 was introduced in the Constitution as an obligation upon the State to maintain social order for promotion of welfare of the people. By the Constitution (Forty-Second Amendment) Act, 1976, Article 51A was added to comprehensively state the fundamental duties of citizens to compliment the obligations of the State. All these duties are of constitutional significance.
The question, therefore, today before administrative authorities, the legislature, the executive and the judiciary is how to balance fundamental rights in a situation where the right to protest is to be balanced against the right of movement and to earn livelihood and also maintain public order. The balance should not be such that the protesters are denuded of their fundamental rights of free speech and peaceful assembly under Articles 19(1)(a) and (b), rather it is only to prevent the negative intersection of fundamental rights.
This question of law has been dealt with by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in a series of judgments including Ramlila Maidan (2012) 5 SCC 1, Anuradha Bhasin (2020) 3 SCC 637, Amit Sahni (Shaheen Bagh, In RE) (2020) 10 SCC 439 , Himat Lal K. Shah (1973) 1 SCC 227 and Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghathan (2018) 17 SCC 324. In all these judgments, the court has in no uncertain terms held that the right to free speech and peaceful assembly are subject to reasonable restrictions to ensure peace and order in the larger public interest.
The apex court has time and again laid down necessary guidelines for compliance with and enforcement of fundamental rights. Only a few days ago, on a petition filed by Kisan Mahapanchayat, the court deprecated the strangulating tactics adopted by the protesters. Now, common citizens facing problems due to the blockades have also approached the court by filing PILs.
Opposition is the bedrock of democracy and it is well understood and captured under the Constitution. Staging of protests and strikes against laws or actions or decisions of the central or the state government is a fundamental right. However, the manner in which such protests can take place is guided and controlled and that is where reasonable restrictions under Articles 19(2) and (3) get activated along with fundamental duties as provided under Article 51A of the Constitution.
The January 26 violence during the tractor rally is a testimony to the failure of law and order. The recent Lakhimpur incident leading to violence further reiterates the need for a permanent solution. There has to be political will and intention in the executive and implementing agencies to honestly implement the directions/ observations of the Supreme Court.
An aggrieved party or group has every right to challenge any legislative enactment and there is no bar on the mode of challenge. One can challenge the vires of any legislation before the high court or directly before the Supreme Court by filing a writ petition or public interest litigation. Both the Citizenship Amendment Act as well as the farm laws which led to the agitation have already been challenged and are pending adjudication before the apex court. Thus, it will be in the interest of justice to await the outcome.
The Constitution respects and promotes opposition both in form of governance as well as speech and in order to respect the spirit of the constitutional scheme, the balance must be seen to be achieved by the administrative authorities and the executive in a meaningful manner. This can, however, never mean that the Supreme Court, which is concerned only with the legality of an aspect, is forced to administer and implement on that which is otherwise in the executive domain.
Thus, the redressal of such grievances can be only through judicial forums and/or Parliamentary debate. But in any case, the highways and public roads can’t be blocked.
Sinha is a former high court judge and senior SC advocate