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CJI to take final call on Bench vs Bench

| | New Delhi

A fight between two Benches of the Supreme Court has landed before the Chief Justice of India for final settlement on Thursday. At the centre of the dispute is the question whether a three-judge Bench can overrule the judgment of another three-judge Bench.

On Wednesday, a Bench of Justices Madan B Lokur, Kurian Joseph and Deepak Gupta had passed an order virtually staying a February 8, 2018 order passed by a Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Adarsh K Goel and Mohan M Shantanagouder in relation to land acquisition cases. In its order, the Bench of Madan B Lokur, Kurian Joseph and Deepak Gupta ordered that High Court should not entertain any appeal on the basis of relief granted by the February 8 order.

It further requested all Benches of the SC to defer hearing on appeals in land acquisition cases on the basis of February 8 order.

The matter came to a flashpoint on Thursday when separate set of appeals related to land acquisition were listed before a Bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy in one court and Justices Adarsh K Goel and UU Lalit in another court. When counsels appearing for different petitioners showed the Wednesday order to both the Benches during the course of hearing, they referred the matters to the CJI to constitute an “appropriate Bench”.

The Bench of Justices Goel and Lalit said, “The issues need to be resolved by a larger Bench. Let these matters be placed before an appropriate Bench on February 23 as per orders issued by the CJI.”

In the other court headed by Justices Mishra and Roy, when the Wednesday order was shown to seek deferment of the case, the judges remarked, “We want to see whether we can proceed with the hearing or not…whether our order amounts to judicial indiscipline or not, is to be determined by the CJI.”

The Bench felt that the issue whether a three-judge Bench can declare another three-judge Bench’s order as “per incuriam” (bad in law) has been addressed in the February 8 order in detail. “Probably nobody has read our order completely…You have started attacking it without reading it. First go through it. We do not mind if it is set aside,” Justice Mishra said.

On Wednesday, the three-judge Bench had passed scathing observations against the February 8 judgment declaring that it was against “judicial discipline” and set aside all sacred principles of propriety and consistency followed by the Supreme Court as an institution all these years.

The February 8 judgment said that once the compensation amount for land acquired by Government or public agency has been unconditionally tendered but the land owner refuses to accept it, it cannot be argued by the land owner that since the compensation has not been deposited in court or paid to him, the acquisition has lapsed. This was in keeping with Section 24(2) of Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. The 2014 verdict on the other hand held that “the deposit of compensation amount in the Government treasury is of no avail and cannot be held to be equivalent to compensation paid to the landowners/persons interested.”

The February 8 judgment came on an issue related to land acquisition where the three judges by a 2:1 majority held a previous ruling of 2014 decided in Pune Municipal Corporation case as bad in law and held that the same cannot be relied upon by lower courts. A set of appeals seeking benefit of the February 8 judgment came before a three-judge Bench headed by Justice Lokur on Wednesday who ordered all High Courts not to decide cases based on the February 8 judgment. As for the appeals pending on this subject in the apex court, the Bench requested all Benches to defer the hearing till it decides the question whether one Bench can overrule another bench’s decision of same strength without referring to a larger Bench. In this case, since both Benches composed of three judges, the Bench felt the matter had to go to a Bench of higher composition. 



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