A three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday raised questions on the propriety of another three-judge Bench holding the judgment of a third three-judge Bench per incuriam — i.e., made without reference to a statutory provision or an earlier judgment that is relevant to the matter. What are the issues involved in these three cases, and what is the “tinkering with the system” that Justice Kurian Joseph frowned upon on Wednesday?
What was the case in which Justice Madan B Lokur, Justice Kurian Joseph, and Justice Deepak Gupta made their observations on Wednesday? How did this case reach the Supreme Court?
The court was hearing an appeal filed by Haryana against the June 29, 2016 judgment of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in the case of M/s G D Goenka Tourism Corporation Limited & Anr v State of Haryana and Others. The state had acquired land belonging to G D Goenka Tourism Corporation Ltd and Another in 2003. The HC found that compensation was never paid to the parties, and held that the land acquisition proceedings were deemed to have lapsed.
And what was the case in which the Supreme Court had passed an order on February 8, 2018?
This was on an appeal filed by Indore Development Authority (IDA), over land acquisition proceedings pertaining to land acquired for the purpose of constructing a link road on the outskirts of Indore city. The IDA had deposited the compensation with the Land Acquisition Collector. The landowners were asked to collect it, but they had refused — and did not, therefore, receive the compensation. On November 3, 2014, the Madhya Pradesh High Court had held that the proceedings had lapsed in view of the judgment passed by the Supreme Court in the Pune Municipal Corporation & Anr v Harakchand Misirimal Solanki & Anr on January 24 that year.
The 2014 verdict in the Pune Municipal Corporation case was passed by a Bench of the then Chief Justice R M Lodha and Justices Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph.
The February 8, 2018 order in the IDA case (Indore Development Authority v Shailendra (Dead) through Lrs & Ors) was passed by a Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Adarsh Kumar Goel and Mohan M Shantanagoudar.
So, what was the Pune Municipal Corporation case that was decided in January 2014?
This matter related to proceedings for acquisition of 43.94 acres for the development of a “Forest Garden”. The landowners challenged the acquisition proceedings before the Bombay High Court, which ruled in their favour. The Supreme Court upheld the HC order, referring to Section 24(2) of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, under which land acquisition proceedings initiated under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 are deemed to have lapsed where the 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.
What did the February 8, 2018 order of the court say?
The Bench by a 2:1 majority held that the decision in Pune Municipal Corporation & Anr v Harakchand Misirimal Solanki & Ors, January 24, 2014 is per incuriam, and that decisions rendered on the basis of the judgment in that case are open to be reviewed in appropriate cases.
The Bench also held unanimously that once the amount of compensation had been unconditionally tendered, and had been refused, it would amount to payment having been made — and the obligation under Section 31(1) of the Land Acquisition Act would stand discharged, which amounted to the discharge of obligation of payment under Section 24(2) of the Act. It was also not open to the person who had refused to accept compensation, to urge that since it had not been deposited in court, the acquisition had lapsed. Claimants/landowners after refusal, could not take advantage of their own wrong, the court held.
What is per incuriam?
The concept of per incuriam refers to decisions rendered in ignorance or forgetfulness of some inconsistent statutory provisions, or of some authority binding on the court concerned. In order words, decisions given in disregard of previous decisions of the court, or in ignorance of the terms of an applicable statute or a Rule having the force of law, would not be binding.
And how did this matter come up on February 21?
During the hearing on Haryana’s appeal, the Bench of Justices Lokur, Joseph and Gupta was informed about the February 8 order. The court wondered how a three-judge Bench could overturn the 2014 decision, which too, had been delivered by a three-judge Bench.
What implication does the court’s observations on Wednesday have for the land acquisition cases that were impacted by the February 8 decision?
The Bench of Justices Lokur, Joseph and Gupta have virtually stayed the operation of the February 8 order. It has requested High Courts and other Benches of the Supreme Court hearing matters that were likely to be impacted by the February 8 verdict to defer the hearings till it had decided whether to refer the matter to a larger Bench.