The farmers’ movement is back at the centre stage with the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Wednesday directing the opening of the Shambhu border within a week where farmers that had given a ‘Delhi Chalo’ call in February have been camping all this while.

The move to Delhi was planned in support of their demands that include a legal guarantee of minimum support price (MSP) for the entire agricultural produce among others.

The Court directions for opening the Shambhu border on ‘experimental basis’ have come after more than five months of the `unlawful sealing of the border between Haryana and Punjab’ that came under the judicial scanner.

Meanwhile, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), the umbrella organization that had led the unprecedented farmers’ movement against the three now withdrawn farm laws will be announcing its programme on the re-launch of the agitation against the ‘unfulfilled promises and multiple other anti farmer steps taken by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre’ on Thursday in New Delhi.

The farmers’ movement is important again as it comes before the Haryana assembly polls scheduled to be held three months down the line. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tally came down from 10 in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections to five in the 2024 polls. The Congress won these five seats, and is poised for a comeback.

A spokesperson for the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha and Samyukta Kisan Morcha (Non Political) whose affiliates have been camping at the Punjab and Haryana borders since February stated, “The order has been given only in the case of Shambhu border. The court said that in a democracy, no one should be stopped from protesting. On the call to gherao the SP office, the court asked who can scare the person in uniform and that protest is a democratic right. The court has asked the Haryana government to remove the barricades and allow the farmers to go to Delhi. The Punjab and Haryana governments have been directed to ensure law and order in this process.”

He pointed to the possibility of the government appealing to a higher court.

A bench of Justice Gurmeet Singh Sandhawalia and Justice Vikas Bahl while taking up a bunch of applications filed in public interest reportedly took note of the inconvenience caused to the general public following the closure of the border along with the reduced strength of the protestors over a period of time. The Bench expressed the view that the ‘border should not be closed for all the time’ as the highway was the lifeline for the people connected to Punjab, Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir with the national capital.

The Bench also took note of the forensic science laboratory report filed on the death of the young farmer Shubhkarman Singh on February 21 and made it clear that the matter would be investigated by the authorities in Haryana since the incident had taken place within its jurisdiction.

The Court referred to a Supreme Court judgement on Shaheen Bagh whereby directions had been issued that protests which had to take place should be held at the demarcated place.

“In the said case, the Apex Court had noticed that on account of a Legislation in Delhi and different parts of the country, protests were taking place and the obstruction to traffic, danger to human safety or disturbance to public tranquility had to be kept in mind by the authorities, but it could not be to the extent of holding of public meetings and demonstrations. The authorities were accordingly directed to formulate proper and requisite guidelines but blockage of public way which causes great inconvenience to the general public were not liable to be accepted,” it said.

The Court further stated, “Accordingly, on experimental basis, we direct the State of Haryana that at least the barricade at Shambhu Border should be opened up within a week so that the general public is not inconvenienced. It is also open to the State of Haryana to take effective steps to enforce the law and order against the protestors if they do not remain within their limits which have been set down by the State. Similarly, we also direct that all the Kisan Unions who have taken part in the agitation and chosen not to come forth to contest also to maintain law and order. Similarly, the State of Punjab shall also ensure that the demonstrators gathered in their territory are also duly controlled as and when the situation so requires. Both the States shall endeavor to ensure that the Highway at Shambhu Border is restored to its original glory and open to one and all and that the law and order is maintained for the convenience of the public. It is made clear that the State of Punjab shall also remove any obstruction(s) on the Highway to ensure free flow of traffic.”

The spokesperson of the farmer organizations while reacting to the development recalled, “The farmers were stopped not only by heavy barricading but also by water cannons, tear gas shells, pellet bullets, rubber bullets and gas shells from drones imported from Israel. Hundreds of farmers were injured. Not only the whole country but the world saw how the government had opened a kind of war front against its own citizens. The farmers continued their struggle to move towards Delhi from Shambhu, Khanauri and Dabwali borders.”

He said that it was after the killing of Shubhkarman Singh that the farmers going for the ‘Delhi Chalo’ push had decided that the morchas would continue to be held on the borders of Punjab and Haryana till the government itself opened the roads and allowed them to go to Delhi.

“Hundreds of social media accounts of farmer leaders, farmers' organizations, journalists, social activists and common people were withheld and news blacked out. But the farmers took out the Asthi Kalash Yatra of Shaheed Shubhkaran Singh across the country and talked about the demands of the movement and the government excesses. The effect of this was visible in the Lok Sabha election results. Despite facing a lot of ups and downs and extreme weather conditions, farmers have been sitting on the fronts for five months. Meanwhile, many farmers have been arrested by the Haryana Police and tortured heavily, a young farmer Navdeep Singh is still in jail who has more than half a dozen cases registered against him. The farmers have given a call to gherao the Ambala SP office on July 17 and 18 for the demand of his release,” he added.

Meanwhile, KMM co-ordinator Sarwan Singh Pandher in a message from Baba Bakala in Punjab said, “Right now, we will get the order studied by our lawyers and then hold a meeting of both the forums on July 16 where we will take further decisions. The Court has put a stamp on what we have been saying that it is the government that has installed the barricades."

There have been strong political reactions coming from Punjab. Welcoming the Court verdict, the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has stated that all the demands of the farmers are justified and the Centre should consider fulfilling them instead of stopping them at the border.

Party spokesperson Neel Garg said that before assuming office in 2014 Prime Minister Narendra Modi had himself said that he would waive off the entire debt of the farmers and make a law on MSP as per the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission. But Modi went back on his promise and the farmers were forced to move to Delhi.

He said that even at the time of announcing the repeal of the three farm laws PM Modi had said that a committee would be formed on legal guarantee of MSP but till date he has not fulfilled the promise.

He said that following the Court order both the common people and the farmers will get relief. “Travel will be easy for the common people. At the same time, the farmers will again get a chance to convey their views to the central government in a peaceful manner,” he said.

Senior Congress leader Partap Singh Bajwa who is the leader of opposition in Punjab assembly attacked the BJP-led Haryana government for violating the basic tenets of democracy.

He said in a statement that the reason the Haryana Government barricaded the Shambhu border was to check the farmers who were on their way to Delhi to stage a protest against the BJP led union government, ‘which is the right of people under a democratic setup’.

He has sought action against the Haryana government for illegally barricading the national highway for five months.

"One of our young farmers, Shubhkaran Singh was allegedly killed in firing from the Haryana side, when the Punjabi farmers were attempting to cross the Haryana border at Khanauri. Another farmer Preetpal Singh was brutally beaten up and his family has already accused the Haryana police of the same. Besides this, several farmers lost their vision due to pellet injuries," Bajwa added while urging the Punjab and Haryana High Court to take serious note of the same to ensure justice as the Haryana Police committed barbarity on the peacefully protesting farmers.

He too pointed out, “In his previous regime Prime Minister Modi promised to legalize the MSP. However, he reneged from his promise. The farmers were left with no other choice than to lodge a protest in Delhi to make their voices heard."

Apart from the demands related to agriculture, the farmers have been taking up issues in the wider domain as well. They have been standing with the civil society organizations in the latter’s fight for human rights and civil liberties. In the process they have been increasing their footprint on the Indian political landscape as well.