Controversy on land acquisition orders: SC sets up constitution bench

A five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court would hear on March 6 a contentious issue that had cropped up after a three-judge bench had raised concern over "judicial discipline" and propriety arising due to conflicting views of different benches of the apex court in matters relating to land acquisition.

The issue had came to fore on February 21 when a three-judge bench had virtually stayed the operation of a verdict delivered on February 8 by another three-judge bench of the top court, which had held that compensation not availed within a stipulated five year period would not be a ground for cancellation of land acquisition.

On February 21, the three-judge bench had observed that perhaps there had been a tinkering with judicial discipline in arriving at a conclusion as the issue should have been to referred to a larger bench in case of difference of opinion, as a 2014 verdict passed by another three-judge bench had held that non-payment of compensation would be a ground to cancel the land acquisition.

The very next day when another matter on the land acquisition issue came up for hearing before a two-judge bench, it had referred the case to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) for constituting an "appropriate bench" to deal with the "piquant" situation that had arisen after the February 21 order.

Now, a five-judge constitution bench has been set up by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra to deal with the issue.

Besides the CJI, Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan are part of the bench, which would hear the matter on March 6.

A three-judge bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur had on February 21 referred to the February 8 judgement and observed that if "judicial discipline" and propriety were not maintained, the institution will "go forever".

"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," the bench had said and posted the matter for hearing on March 7.

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), saying that the land acquired could not be quashed due to a delay on part of land owners in accepting compensation within five years due to litigation or other reasons.

The court 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 and it would not be open to the person, who has refused 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".

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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