Wednesday, 15 August, 2018

CJI to take final call on Bench vs Bench

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Melinda Barton | 23 February, 2018, 05:48

A two-judge bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Arun Mishra referred to Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra for posting land acquisition matters before a larger bench to decide whether a three-judge bench on February eight was correct in interpreting the land acquisition law of 2013.

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. A bench, comprising Justices Madan B Lokur, Kurian Joseph and Deepak Gupta, voiced its concerns while hearing arguments on propriety of a three-judge bench ruling of February 8, that held another three-judge ruling of 2014 to be "per incuriam" - not valid any longer, reports CNN IBN News 18.

That efficiently stalled the application of the February 8 judgment by the Justice Arun Mishra-led bench. Further, it also requested other Benches of the Supreme Court to defer the hearing in any matter relating to land acquisition.

However, what is interesting is that these Benches have referred the matter to Chief Justice of India for constituting appropriate Bench on the ground that a larger issue is involved.

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 can not be held to be equivalent to compensation paid to the landowners/persons interested".

After the happenings in court room 4 of Supreme Court yesterday which was followed by an order requesting other Benches to defer hearing in cases related to Section 24 of the Land Acquisition Act, two Benches seem to have already taken note of the same. The 2014 case - Pune Municipal Corporation & Anr. v. Harakchand Misirimal Solanki & Ors- primarily involved the interpretation of Section 24 of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. Both the cases concerned land acquisition. The senior judge underlined that the hoary principle of the Supreme Court "is that you can't tinker with the system".

It was argued that the February 8 decision "had unsettled a long standing statement of law and had very serious repercussions on land acquisition cases". He added: "When the court is one, it must act as one". It said it would decide the future course of action - whether to refer the matter to a larger bench. It also asked other benches hearing similar matters to defer the hearing.

Meanwhile, cases relating to land acquisition came up before the court of Justices Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy on Thursday.

A bench of the court is usually allowed to reject the verdict passed by a smaller bench. The disunity between the benches raises the question of judicial discipline and propriety.