Won’t withdraw from Constitution bench: Justice Arun Mishra
Supreme Court judge, Justice Arun Mishra on Wednesday refused to withdraw from a Constitution bench hearing a case over interpretation of section 24 of the land acquisition act that involves fair compensation to landowners -- the case essentially re-examines his own judgment on compensation dating back to 2018 -- whose property is acquired by the State.
The five-judge bench passed an order turning down pleas by farmer bodies who sought the recusal of Justice Mishra from hearing the case.
Justice Mishra’s 2018 judgement on compensation was at odds with a 2014 judgment of the court and the matter was then referred to a Constitution bench.
The facts of the case (or cases) are straightforward: the 2013 land acquisition law replaced an 1894 one and promised higher compensation for people whose land was acquired. While dealing with a case related to compensation, a three-judge bench headed by Justice RM Lodha said in 2014 that the acquisition of land under the old law would deem to have lapsed if the compensation was merely deposited in the government treasury and not either paid out to the landowners or deposited with the court. This meant all cases where this had happened -- there were several -- would now involve compensation under the new 2013 land acquisition law, entailing higher compensation.
In 2018, a three-judge bench of which Justice Mishra was a part through a majority verdict in a different case related to compensation said the land acquisition could not be deemed to have lapsed because depositing the money in the treasury was an established tradition. Justices Mishra and AK Goel were of this view while Justice MM Shantanagoudar wrote a dissenting verdict. However, the bench’s majority ruling meant that in cases where compensation had not been made or delayed, the land acquisition under the old law would still be valid.
Last week, Farmers’ Association opposed Justice Mishra heading the five-judge bench.
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for the farmers body opposed the presence of Justice Mishra on the bench saying propriety demands that a judge who has taken a view on the matter should not be a part of the bench that is sitting in appeal against it.
But Justice Mishra and other judges on the bench did not agree with the demand and asked lawyers to argue. The arguments went on for two days and the matter was reserved for judgment.
Justice Arun Mishra, one of the senior judges of the Supreme Court and a member of the collegium, criticised the “emerging trend” of using social media and articles to pressurise the judiciary and judges to give up cases and said such practices amounted to deliberate interference with the judicial system.
He said, “My determination has been strengthened by these circumstances. It would be embarrassing for me to hear comments on my own argument, but I will not succumb to a lobby which under a certain guise is pressurising the Chief Justice.”
“It will destroy the independence of the judiciary. You are asking for a bench of your preference, your liking?...This is a grave issue!”, the judge told senior advocate Shyam Divan who on behalf of the landowners said there was no intent of any bench-shopping.
“We are worried about an apprehension of bias,” Divan clarified.
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