SC to reconsider February 8 land acquisition order

The Supreme Court was critical of deviations from the judicial system, saying tinkering with it could jeopardise it. The court’s observations came while hearing a case on land acquisition, and virtually stayed an earlier verdict given by it.
(HT File Photo)
(HT File Photo)
Updated on Feb 21, 2018 11:45 PM IST
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Bhadra Sinha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By HT Correspondent, New Delhi

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court has agreed, in effect, to reconsider a judgement by another three-judge bench on February 8 which sets a precedent in favour of the government in land acquisition cases, although the bench was at pains to point out that it was doing so purely on issues related to procedure and not the merits of the case.

Still, the interim order, which asked high courts and also other benches of the Supreme Court from treating the February 8 ruling as a precedent, will effectively prevent any movement in land acquisition cases.

Interestingly, at the core of the issue is a 2014 judgement by another three-judge bench of the Supreme Court in a case involving the Pune Municipal Corporation. That ruling said land acquisition would be considered void if the compensation to the people from whom the land was being acquired was not deposited in their bank accounts or with the courts. Some people refuse to surrender their land and do not take the compensation amount.

In its February 8 ruling, a three judge bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra overturned this ruling — its logic was that once the amount had been offered as compensation, it would be taken as paid under the provisions of the land acquisition law of 2013, even if the land owner refused the amount.

On Wednesday, the bench of justices MB Lokur, Kurien Joseph and Deepak Gupta, which was hearing land acquisition cases related to Haryana, took issue with the February 8 judgement.

The three-judge bench that delivered the February 8 ruling should not have overturned the decision of another three-judge bench of the apex court, it said.

Justices Lokur, Joseph and Gupta said they were not going into the merits or correctness of the decision.

“We are only concerned with judicial discipline,” Justice Joseph said, adding if Justice Mishra’s bench disagreed with the view taken in the Pune Municipal Corporation case in 2014, then it should have referred the issue to a larger bench.

“Can a three-judge bench over rule the judgment of another three judges? If they differ the correctness of an earlier decision, they can only refer the matter to the Chief Justice of India for a decision by a larger bench,” Justice Joseph said when senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi pointed to the flaw in the recent judgement.

Rohatgi submitted that there would be disastrous consequences if the February 8 ruling was followed by the HCs. Atleast 5,000 verdicts decided by courts in the last few years would have to be recalled and reviewed, he added. Rohatgi insisted that the court refer the issue to a larger bench.

The court said it will hear the parties on March 7 and then take a decision on placing the matter before the Chief Justice of India.

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