New Delhi: A group of 78 former civil servants, who have served at the Centre and in different states, have issued a statement criticising the Centre’s “violation of constitutional provisions” while pushing through the three contentious new farm laws.

Farmers have been camping at Delhi borders for two weeks now, and have repeatedly told the government that they will accept nothing short of a complete repeal of the laws.

The former civil servants have asked why the Narendra Modi government has brought about sweeping changes to farm laws when ‘agriculture’ is, in fact, on the state list. The laws, the open letter says, “represent an assault upon the federal character of the Constitution”.

In addition, the letter says, there was no consultation with farmers, even though they are the directly affected party. Even within parliament, objections to the laws were not heard: “Time was not given to debate the Bills and they were railroaded through Parliament; the demand for a division in the Rajya Sabha was not accepted and a voice vote was held amid tumult and confusion, leading to suspicions about the procedure employed.”

The timing too can be questioned, they argue, as the Centre may have thought people would not come out to protest during the pandemic.

Read the full text of the open letter below.

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We are a group of former civil servants belonging to the All India and Central Services who have worked with the Central government as well as different state governments of India. As a group, we have no affiliation with any political party but believe in being neutral, impartial and committed to the Constitution of India.

A huge farmers’ agitation – primarily in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan – to repeal three new laws has been under way for many months and has been supported by many other sectors like trade unions, student organisations, university teachers’ associations, a range of political parties and others. A Bharat Bandh was called for December 8 after several rounds of talks between farmers’ unions and the Government of India failed to yield results. We do not wish to discuss here the merits and demerits of these laws but focus on the violation of constitutional provisions and the breakdown of democratic processes in this saga.

In keeping with the federal structure of the Constitution and the range and diversity of state-specific needs, “agriculture” is at Entry 14 in List-II in the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution. The subjects in this List are within the exclusive legislative jurisdiction of the States and it has been argued convincingly that the laws passed are, therefore, unconstitutional. Unconstitutionality apart, they represent an assault upon the federal character of the Constitution: some legal experts have argued that they violate “the basic structure of the Constitution.” The passing of these laws appears to be a case of legislative legerdemain and they have been challenged in court.

There were no consultations with farmers’ representatives before the legal process. To start with, ordinances were issued during a colossal pandemic which deserved undiluted attention. When the Bills were introduced in Parliament in September, 2020, the demand to send them to Parliamentary Committees was denied. It is pertinent to point out that according to a newspaper report of September 2020, in recent times, the percentage of Bills scrutinized by Parliamentary Select Committees rose from 60% during UPA I (14th Lok Sabha) to a high of 71% during UPA II (15th Lok Sabha) but fell to 25% in NDA I (16th Lok Sabha). In the current Lok Sabha, very few Bills have been sent to Parliamentary Committees.

Time was not given to debate the Bills and they were railroaded through Parliament; the demand for a division in the Rajya Sabha was not accepted and a voice vote was held amid tumult and confusion, leading to suspicions about the procedure employed. At the same time, some labour laws were passed during a walk-out by the Opposition. The question has been raised pointedly: was this done in the belief that during a pandemic and the restrictions on public gatherings, organised protest would not be possible?

The undermining of democratic processes and the total disregard for public consultation and convenience has been evident in the ways in which Article 370 was repealed, demonetisation was implemented without warning or preparation, the Citizenship Amendment Act was brought in and a lockdown ordered with hardly any notice, resulting in untold suffering for millions of migrant workers. What is noteworthy and common to all these actions was a refusal to consult the people affected beforehand and a determination to not hold a dialogue afterwards. The facile option of labelling all those who disagree with one or other of the actions of the government as “anti-national”, “pro-Pakistani,“ “award-vapasi gang”, “urban Naxals” and “Khan Market gang” is chosen to avoid substantive discussion and debate, the very heart of the democratic process, and to vilify and criminalise dissent.

It is a measure of their discontent that farmers in lakhs are braving the winter cold as also the risks of COVID-19. The farmers’ agitation has been peaceful and in exercise of their Constitutional and democratic right to protest. Yet, they were greeted by teargas and water cannons as they tried to reach Delhi and highways in Haryana were dug up to impede their onward march. It is difficult to label these protests as instigated by political parties or Khalistanis when the farmers explicitly keep political parties at bay and a senior SAD leader, once a part of the ruling alliance of NDA, returns his Padma Vibhushan award.

The protests have spread across many states and are being supported by several other groups even though a largely complicit media refuses to report their true magnitude and reach.  In our capacity as former civil servants who stand up for constitutional freedoms, we would like to emphasise our support for the democratic and Constitutional right of peaceful protest being exercised by farmers and others. It is time that the ruling dispensation listens carefully to the demands being made and demonstrates its respect for democratic traditions, procedures and practices by engaging in dialogue inside and outside parliament.

SATYAMEVA JAYATE

(78 signatories, as below)

1. S.R. Adige IAS (Retd.) Former Vice Chairman, Central Administrative Tribunal
2. Salahuddin Ahmad IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan
3. Shafi Alam IPS (Retd.) Former Director General, National Crime Records Bureau, GoI
4. K. Saleem Ali IPS (Retd.) Former Special Director, CBI, GoI
5. S.P. Ambrose IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Secretary, Ministry of Shipping & Transport, GoI
6. G. Balachandhran IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
7. Vappala Balachandran IPS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI
8. Gopalan Balagopal IAS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
9. Chandrashekhar Balakrishnan IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Coal, GoI
10. T.K. Banerji IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Union Public Service Commission
11. Sharad Behar IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
12. Aurobindo Behera IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Odisha
13. Madhu Bhaduri IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Portugal
14. Ravi Budhiraja IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, GoI
15. Sundar Burra IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
16. Rachel Chatterjee IAS (Retd.) Former Special Chief Secretary, Agriculture, Govt. of Andhra Pradesh
17. Kalyani Chaudhuri IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
18. Vibha Puri Das IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, GoI
19. P.R. Dasgupta IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Food Corporation of India, GoI
20. Pradeep K. Deb IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Deptt. Of Sports, GoI
21. Nitin Desai IES (Retd.) Former Secretary and Chief Economic Adviser, Ministry of Finance, GoI
22. Keshav Desiraju IAS (Retd.) Former Health Secretary, GoI
23. M.G. Devasahayam IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Govt. of Haryana
24. Arif Ghauri IRS (Retd.) Former Governance Adviser, DFID, Govt. of the United Kingdom (on deputation)
25. Suresh K. Goel IFS (Retd.) Former Director General, Indian Council of Cultural Relations, GoI
26. S.K. Guha IAS (Retd.) Former Joint Secretary, Department of Women & Child Development, GoI
27. H.S. Gujral IFoS (Retd.) Former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Govt. of Punjab
28. Meena Gupta IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, GoI
29. Wajahat Habibullah IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, GoI and Chief Information Commissioner
30. Rahul Khullar IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India
31. Brijesh Kumar IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI
32. Sudhir Kumar IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Central Administrative Tribunal
33. P.K. Lahiri IAS (Retd.) Former ED, Asian Development Bank & Former Revenue Secretary, GoI
34. Subodh Lal IPoS (Resigned) Former Deputy Director General, Ministry of Communications, GoI
35. P.M.S. Malik IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Myanmar & Special Secretary, MEA, GoI
36. Harsh Mander IAS (Retd.) Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
37. Amitabh Mathur IPS (Retd.) Former Director, Aviation Research Centre and Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI
38. Lalit Mathur IAS (Retd.) Former Director General, National Institute of Rural Development, GoI
39. Aditi Mehta IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan
40. Sonalini Mirchandani IFS (Resigned) GoI
41. Sunil Mitra IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Finance, GoI
42. Avinash Mohananey IPS (Retd.) Former Director General of Police, Govt. of Sikkim
43. Deb Mukharji IFS (Retd.) Former High Commissioner to Bangladesh and former Ambassador to Nepal
44. Nagalsamy IA&AS (Retd.) Former Principal Accountant General, Tamil Nadu & Kerala
45. P.G.J. Nampoothiri IPS (Retd.) Former Director General of Police, Govt. of Gujarat
46. Surendra Nath IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Finance Commission, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
47. P. Joy Oommen IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Chhattisgarh
48. Amitabha Pande IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Inter-State Council, GoI
49. Mira Pande IAS (Retd.) Former State Election Commissioner, West Bengal
50. R. Poornalingam IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Textiles, GoI
51. R.M. Premkumar IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
52. T.R. Raghunandan IAS (Retd.) Former Joint Secretary, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, GoI
53. V.P. Raja IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission
54. K. Sujatha Rao IAS (Retd.) Former Health Secretary, GoI
55. Satwant Reddy IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Chemicals and Petrochemicals, GoI
56. Vijaya Latha Reddy IFS (Retd.) Former Deputy National Security Adviser, GoI
57. Julio Ribeiro IPS (Retd.) Former Adviser to Governor of Punjab & former Ambassador to Romania
58. Aruna Roy IAS (Resigned)
59. Manabendra N. Roy IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
60. A.K. Samanta IPS (Retd.) Former Director General of Police (Intelligence), Govt. of West Bengal
61. Deepak Sanan IAS (Retd.) Former Principal Adviser (AR) to Chief Minister, Govt. of Himachal Pradesh
62. G. Sankaran IC&CES (Retd.) Former President, Customs, Excise and Gold (Control) Appellate Tribunal
63. N.C. Saxena IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Planning Commission, GoI
64. A. Selvaraj IRS (Retd.) Former Chief Commissioner, Income Tax, Chennai, GoI
65. Abhijit Sengupta IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI
66. Ashok Kumar Sharma IFoS (Retd.) Former MD, State Forest Development Corporation, Govt. of Gujarat
67. Ashok Kumar Sharma IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Finland and Estonia
68. Navrekha Sharma IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Indonesia
69. Raju Sharma IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh
70. Sujatha Singh IFS (Retd.) Former Foreign Secretary, GoI
71. Tirlochan Singh IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, National Commission for Minorities, GoI
72. Jawhar Sircar IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI, & former CEO, Prasar Bharati
73. Thanksy Thekkekera IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Minorities Development, Govt. of Maharashtra
74. P.S.S. Thomas IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary General, National Human Rights Commission
75. Hindal Tyabji IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary rank, Govt. of Jammu & Kashmir
76. Jawed Usmani IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh & Former Chief Information Commissioner, Uttar Pradesh
77. Ashok Vajpeyi IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Lalit Kala Akademi
78. Ramani Venkatesan IAS (Retd.) Former Director General, YASHADA, Govt. of Maharashtra

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