Supreme Court says the institution will 'go forever' if judicial discipline and propriety are not maintained

The Supreme Court on Wednesday warned that if judicial discipline and propriety were not maintained, the institution will "go forever", as it virtually stayed the operation of its own verdict of 8 February relating to land acquisition.

A court bench of Justice MB Lokur, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Deepak Gupta, was critical of the 8 February verdict passed by another three-judge bench holding that compensation not availed within a stipulated five-year period would not be a ground for cancellation of land acquisition.

The bench said perhaps there have been a tinkering with judicial discipline in arriving at a conclusion as the issue should have been to referred to a larger bench in case of difference of opinion, as a 2014 verdict had held that non-payment of compensation would be a ground to cancel the land acquisition. "The system exists but if you start tinkering with it then it won't stop. This institution will go forever. There has to be wisdom and a proper method has to be followed. Every institution works on particular methodology," the bench said.

On 8 February, a three-judge bench of Justice Arun Mishra, Justice Adarsh Goel and Justice MM Shantanagoudar had held that that once the compensation amount for land acquired by a government agency has been unconditionally tendered but the land owner refuses it, this would amount to payment and discharge of obligation on part of the agency.

The court had also held then that it will not be open to the person, who has refused the compensation, to raise the point that since the amount has not been deposited in court or paid to him, the acquisition has lapsed. It had said, "the claimants/landowners after refusal, cannot take advantage of their own wrong and seek protection under the provisions of section 24(2) of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013" to reclaim land on the ground that they were not paid compensation within five years.

File image of the Supreme Court. AP

File image of the Supreme Court. AP

In a 2:1 majority view, the bench had then held the 2014 verdict in the Pune Municipal Corporation case was passed without due regard to the law (as per incuriam) and said that the land acquired could not be quashed due to delay on part of land owners in accepting compensation within five years due to litigation or other reasons.

On Wednesday, Justice Joseph observed it was his "painful concern" that "if this court is to remain as one, it should be one and you have to make it one. You have to have proper judicial discipline for that". "Be very clear, this is a matter of judicial discipline, judicial propriety and consistency. Can a three-judge bench over rule a three-judge bench verdict?. It has to be referred to a larger bench in case of difference of opinion," Justice Joseph said. He said that "correctness of judgement can be doubted but the bench of similar strength of judges cannot 'hold' that the judgement rendered by the earlier one was wrong. Such a system works on hierarchy and it needs to be preserved".

The court can now refer the two verdicts to the Chief Justice so that he can set up a larger five-judge bench to hear the matter, according to NDTV. The court will decide on how to proceed further on 7 March. "We are not going into the merits or correctness of the decision by Justice Mishra's bench. We are only concerned with judicial discipline," Justice Joseph said. The senior judge underlined that the hoary principle of the Supreme Court "is that you can't tinker with the system".

The bench requested that the matters related to land acquisition listed before the two-judge bench of Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Amitava Roy should be deferred till the case before it is decided as whether the larger bench should hear the issue. It also restrained all high courts from entertaining or passing any order on land acquisition matters on the basis of 8 February verdict and listed the matter for further hearing on 7 March.

The 2014 verdict

Incidentally, the 2014 verdict was rendered unanimously by former Chief Justice RM Lodha, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice MB Lokur, holding 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". It had then held that "Under Section 24(2) land acquisition proceedings initiated under the 1894 Act, by legal fiction, are deemed to have lapsed where award has been made five years or more prior to the commencement of 2013 Act and possession of the land is not taken or compensation has not been paid".

At the outset, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi said that due to the recent verdict, a two judge bench of Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Amitava Roy has been dismissing the cases in the wake of verdict. "On Tuesday, 60 cases were disposed of. On 16 February, some cases were disposed. Then on 19 February, some cases were dismissed in the wake of verdict. Due to the retirement of one of the judges, urgency is shown by the bench and is not ready to defer the matter," he said.

Rohatgi further said, "when one of the judge has differed on the point of holding the 2014 verdict as per incuriam, then this matter should be have been referred to a larger bench. That's the judicial discipline adopted by apex court." He said that the operation of 8 February verdict has to be immediately be stopped and the cases listed before the bench needs to be deferred till the matter is finally adjudicated on the issue of reference to a larger bench.

Rohatgi who was critical of the verdict, said that the view of three-judge bench will open the flood gates in apex court and this court as the cases which were decided based on 2014, verdict, will now be sought to be reviewed.

With inputs from PTI


Updated Date: Feb 22, 2018 10:12 AM

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