New Delhi, January 19: Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde on Tuesday hinted that the criticism doing rounds against the three members of an Expert Committee formed by the Supreme Court to hear concerns of farmers over the new farm laws was totally unwarranted.

Commenting on a case unrelated to the farmer protests or the farm laws, a bench headed by CJI Bobde on Tuesday remarked, “We are noticing there is some misunderstanding of the law. When we appoint a committee and we find the members have expressed their opinions on the subject, they are still entitled to continue.”

Without dropping any names, the CJI was candid to admit that persons appointed to a committee were free to express their views on the subject on which they have been called to consider, the Hindustan Times reported. “Speaking in general, people are expected to be intelligent and informed. You are entitled to give your view. There is lack of comprehension about the composition of a committee. This is not a situation where somebody alleges bias towards a person whose relative is a beneficiary.”

The Court’s outburst came in a suo moto proceeding related to address inadequacies and deficiencies in criminal trials following the lockdown. Senior advocate Sidharth Luthra was part of a three-member committee constituted by the Court to examine the rules framed by various High Courts and recommend changes in rules to facilitate early disposal of criminal trials. He had assisted senior advocate R Basanth and advocate K Parmeshwar to this task.

Luthra said, “Today we are moving towards a hybrid system and norms must be laid down for having a mix of physical and virtual proceedings for not just hearings but also trial through video-conferencing.”

The bench, also comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and Vineet Saran, requested Luthra to assist them as amicus curiae in this regard. But Luthra felt that his comments, openly supporting videoconferencing as against physical court hearings, could go against him in undertaking this responsibility. This provoked the CJI to pass the above observation.

Justice Bobde said, “Where is the question of your disqualification? Everybody is entitled to speak their mind.”

The comments by the Court seemed to fit well in the context of the four-member committee appointed by it to hear concerns of farmers and submit a report in eight weeks. On January 12, the Court formed a four-member committee comprising Bhupinder Singh Mann (National President, BKU and All India Kisan Coordination Committee), Pramod Kumar Joshi (Agricultural Economist, Director for South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute), Ashok Gulati, Agricultural Economist and Former Chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, and Anil Ghanwat, President, Shetkari Sanghatana.

Even before the committee could begin its work, news circulated about the pro-farm law comments expressed by the four members as doubts emerged on whether the selection by the Court was fair. On January 14, one of the members, Bhupinder Singh Mann withdrew from the committee leaving just three members to complete the Court-assigned task.

Last week, one of the protesting farmer unions, Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) – Lokshakti, filed an affidavit in Supreme Court demanding the removal of the three members alleging that they were biased in favour of the farm laws. This affidavit will come up for consideration by the top court on Wednesday along with an application by Delhi Police to restrain protesting farmer organizations from taking out a tractor rally on Republic Day. Meanwhile, the three-member committee has also begun its task and is expected to meet farmer organisations on Thursday.

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