The Supreme Court today said it would test the correctness of two separate verdicts by its benches of similar strengths related to land acquisitions, which recently snowballed into a major controversy.
The top court said that it was of a "prima facie view" that a three-judge bench cannot hold the verdict of an earlier three-judge bench 'per incuriam' (without due regard to the law).
A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said parties shall file their propositions of law when the matter is taken up for hearing after the conclusion of hearing in another constitution bench matter related to challenge to the validity of section 377 of IPC.
"We think it appropriate to state, this bench shall consider all the aspects including the correctness of the decision rendered in Pune Municipal Corporation (verdict of 2014) and the other judgments following the said decision as well as the judgment rendered in Indore Development Authority (verdict of February 8)," the bench said.
The bench also comprising justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan said, "we are of the prima facie view that it is wrong. A three-judge bench cannot hold the verdict passed by another three-judge bench as per incuriam. But the matter is now with the five-judge bench and it will look into the aspect."
The court said it would have heard the matter at present but since it is in midst of hearing another constitution bench matter, therefore it was adjourning the matter to be heard later.
At the outset, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi appearing for some petitioners said that February 8 verdict passed by a three-judge bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra cannot hold a verdict passed by a three-judge bench in 2014.
Both Pune Municipal Corporation and Indore Development Authority verdicts dealt with the issue of interpretation of Section 24 of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.
Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for Indore Development Authority said that there are earlier verdicts of the apex court which say that a bench of same strength can say that earlier verdict is per incuriam.
On February 22, a two-judge bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra had referred the 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 an order by a three-judge bench which had virtually stayed the operation of a February 8 verdict.
It had said "We do not mind our order being set aside. We had said that the order (passed in 2014) was 'per incuriam' and it was permissible under the law. It is for the CJI to decide which bench should hear it."
A three-judge bench headed by Justice M B Lokur on February 21, had observed that if "judicial discipline" and propriety were not maintained, the institution will "go forever" while referring to the February 8 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.
It had said that perhaps there has been a tinkering with judicial discipline in arriving at a conclusion in the February 8 verdict as the issue should have been referred to a larger bench in case of difference of opinion, as the 2014 verdict had held that non-payment of compensation would be a ground to cancel the land acquisition.
In its February 8 judgement, 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 landowners in accepting compensation within five years due to litigation or other reasons.
It had held that once the compensation amount for land acquired by a government agency has been unconditionally tendered but the landowner 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".