Bench puts on record the promise from the Solicitor-General
The Supreme Court on Wednesday recorded in its order the government’s undertaking that farmers and agricultural workers would not be harassed by the police and the authorities during the lockdown.
A Bench, led by Justice N.V. Ramana, was hearing a petition filed by activist Swami Agnivesh, represented by senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, that the authorities were tormenting farm workers and blocking transport of agricultural produce, despite the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Agriculture on March 24 and 25 and then on March 28, exempting agriculture from the lockdown.
Agnivesh said this would lead to food shortage, sky-rocketing of prices and hoarding, especially in the wake of the harvesting of Rabi crops.
The Bench took note of the submission of Mr. Gonsalves that the government’s order of exemption was “not being fully implemented by the police”.
Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta assured the Bench that there was “full monitoring and implementation of the guidelines” issued by the Ministry. Mr. Mehta said steps would be taken to ensure that the police followed the guidelines. The court recorded his assurances, on behalf of the government, before disposing of Agnivesh’s plea.
The guidelines issued by the government, especially on March 28, exempted agricultural operations, transport of food produce and the functioning of mandis from the lockdown.
However, the petition accused the police of mercilessly beating up farmers and farm workers. “If this continues, the harvesting will severely be affected, farm produce will rot on the fields — as indeed is the case for vegetables and tea — and food shortage may begin. Similarly, in tribal areas, the governments are grossly interfering with the rights of tribal and non-tribal forest-dwellers to access forest produce in accordance with the Forest Rights Act,” the petition said.