The Supreme Court on Thursday referred a matter relating to land acquisition to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) for constituting an "appropriate bench" to deal with the "piquant" situation that had arisen after Wednesday's order by a three-judge bench which virtually stayed the operation of an 8 February verdict.
A bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy observed that it would be appropriate if the matter was referred to the CJI for constituting an appropriate bench to deal with it and "to see whether we can proceed with the hearing or not" in the wake of Wednesday's order.
Another bench comprising Justice AK Goel and Justice UU Lalit said, "that having regard to the nature of the issues involved in the matter, the issues need to be resolved by a larger bench at the earliest", reported The Indian Express. It directed that "these matters may be placed before the appropriate bench tomorrow i.e. 23rd February, 2018, as per orders of Hon'ble The Chief Justice of India."
Justice Mishra and Justice Goel were both part of the bench which delivered the 8 February verdict.
On Wednesday, a three-judge bench had observed that if "judicial discipline" and propriety were not maintained, the institution will "go forever" while referring to the 8 February verdict passed by another three-judge bench which had held that compensation not availed within a stipulated five year period would not be a ground for cancellation of land acquisition. "We do not mind our order being set aside. We had said that the order (passed in 2014) was per incuriam (without due regard to the law) and it was permissible under the law. It is for the CJI to decide which bench should hear it," the bench said on Thursday.
File image of Supreme Court. Reuters
"Whether it amounts to judicial discipline or not, it is for the court to see. Whether it is judicial discipline, it will be decided," it said, adding that a two-judge bench should not proceed with the matter in view of Wednesday's order by a three-judge bench which "morally binds" it.
"A piquant situation has arisen," the bench said after the advocates appearing in the matter referred to the order passed on Wednesday by a three-judge bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur.
In its 8 February judgment, the apex court with a 2:1 majority view, had held the 2014 verdict of another three-judge bench in Pune Municipal Corporation case was passed without due regard to the law (as per incuriam) and had said that 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.
During the hearing on Thursday, Justice Mishra, who was heading the three-judge bench which had delivered the 8 February verdict, said the bench had taken a "considered view" in its judgement running into around 200 pages but "probably nobody would have read it completely". "You have started attacking it. First read it. Go through it. Let it be set aside. We do not mind," he observed.
"Since larger issue is involved, we refer the matter to the CJI to be dealt with by an appropriate bench," the bench said while observing that Wednesday's order also involved land acquisition issues pending before high courts across the country.
The three-judge bench had on Wednesday said that perhaps there has been a tinkering with judicial discipline in arriving at a conclusion in the 8 February verdict as the issue should have been referred to a larger bench in case of difference of opinion, as a 2014 judgement had held that non-payment of compensation would be a ground to cancel the land acquisition. "Taking all this into consideration, we are of the opinion that it would be appropriate if in the interim and pending a final decision on making a reference (if at all) to a larger bench, the High Courts be requested not to deal with any cases relating to the interpretation of or concerning Section 24 of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013," it had said on Wednesday.
The bench had also requested that the matters related to land acquisition listed before other benches of the apex court should be deferred till the case before it was decided as to whether a larger bench should hear the issue.
On 8 February, the three-judge bench had held that once the compensation amount for land acquired by a government agency has been unconditionally tendered but the land owner refuses to accept it, this would amount to payment and discharge of obligation on part of the agency. The court had also then held 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.
The 2014 verdict was rendered unanimously by a three-judge bench which had 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".
With inputs from PTI