On Wednesday, a three-judge bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur, Kurian Joseph and Deepak Gupta had observed: "The hoary principle of this great institution is you can't tinker with the system".
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. And 2 of them, Justice Lokur and Joseph were amongst those who last month objected the CJI's choice to designate PILs to do with the supposed suspicious death of judge B H Loya to a bench headed by "junior judge" Arun Mishra. "It has to be referred to a larger bench in case of difference of opinion", Justice Joseph said.
The Bench of Justices Goel and Lalit said, "The issues need to be resolved by a larger Bench". This judgement was seen as a shot in the arm for the government in land acquisition matter.
The February 8 judgment came on an issue related to land acquisition where the three judges by a 2:1 majority held a previous ruling of 2014 decided in Pune Municipal Corporation case as bad in law and held that the same can not be relied upon by lower courts.
Remarkably, the 2014 decision was provided by a bench of Justices RM Lodha, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph.
This bench of Justices Goel and Lalit ordered for placing the matter before "appropriate bench" on Friday as per the order of the CJI.
On February 8, a three-judge bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Adarsh Goel and M M Shantanagoudar had held that that once the compensation amount for land acquired by a government agency has been unconditionally tendered but the land owner refuses it, this would amount to payment and discharge of obligation on part of the agency.
It was argued that the February 8 decision "had unsettled a long standing statement of law and had very serious repercussions on land acquisition cases".
"I don't want to be silent on this issue".
"This court has to remain as one".
In its order on Wednesday, the Justice Lokur bench said that in the next hearing it would decide whether to refer the matter to a larger bench. "Whether it amounts to judicial discipline, or not, is for the larger bench to decide", he said.
So, when a new land acquisition case came up before Justice Mishra on Thursday, he referred it to Chief Justice Dipak Misra to take a decision, saying: "Whether it is judicial indiscipline or not has to be decided by a larger bench". We had pondered (while writing the February 8 judgment) over the issue - whether the matter required to be referred to a larger bench given the three-judge bench's 2014 judgment, and then took a conscious decision (to term it "per incurium" and overrule it). It also requested other benches of the Supreme Court to defer hearings of matters on the subject.
On Wednesday, the three-judge Bench had passed scathing observations against the February 8 judgment declaring that it was against "judicial discipline" and set aside all sacred principles of propriety and consistency followed by the Supreme Court as an institution all these years. The court then adjourned the matter to March 7.