split verdict

Supreme Court: While exercising its civil appellate jurisdiction, the division bench of M.R. Shah and B.V. Nagarathna J.J., passed a split verdict on ‘scope of review' when a judgment, and all other subsequent judgments, following the same was overruled by a superior Court.

While Justice M.R. Shah allowed the review petitions filed by Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi, Justice B.V. Nagarathna dismissed the same on the question of maintainability stating that it is in teeth of Explanation to Order XLVII Rule 1 of Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (‘CPC') which stipulates that when a decision on a question of law on which judgement of the Court was based had been reversed or modified by subsequent decision of a superior Court in any other case, shall not be a ground for review of such judgement.

In the matter at hand, the full bench in Pune Municipal Corporation v. Harakchand Misirimal Solanki (2014) 3 SCC 183 (‘Pune Municipal Corp') interpreted Section 24(2) of Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (‘L.A. Act, 2013'). However, in Indore Development Authority v. Shailendra (2018) 3 SCC 412, the full bench considered the question of interpretation which stated that the Pune Municipal Corp did not consider several aspects relating to the interpretation of Section 24 (2) of the LA Act.

There were other cases also touching upon the same controversy which were referred to a larger Bench and ultimately, the Constitution Bench of Supreme Court in Indore Development Authority v Manohar Lal (2020) 8 SCC 395 (‘Indore Development Authority') overruled the decision of Pune Municipal Corp and all the other judgements or orders following it. The present batch of petitions filed by the acquiring body, or the State sought to review the Special Leave Petitions and Civil Appeals that were disposed of in terms of the judgement in Pune Municipal Corp, in light of the latest pronouncement of this Court in Indore Development Authority and seeking to restore the same.

The respondents questioned the maintainability of the review petitions stating that the decision taken in Pune Municipal Corp were still binding on parties involved. They relied on Explanation to Order XLVII Rule 1 of CPC and argued that when a decision on a question of law on which judgement of the Court has been reversed or modified by a subsequent decision of the superior Court, it shall not be a ground for review of such judgement.

Issue for Consideration

Whether, the judgment passed in Pune Municipal Corporation and all other judgments following the said dictum, which have been overruled, could be reviewed by entertaining these review petitions and the said orders be recalled and be reheard and decided in light of Indore Development Authority?

Court Analysis

Justice B.V. Nagarathna stated that prior to rehearing of the matter on merits, the maintainability of the review petition had to be ascertained. The power of the Supreme Court to review its judgement was subject to:

  1. Provisions of any law made by the Parliament.

  2. Any Rule made under Article 145 of the Constitution of India

Justice Nagarathna navigated through Rule 1 of Order XLVII of the Supreme Court Rules, 2013 and stated that the scope and power to review a judgement was restricted to its contours and only those aggrieved persons may seek review of the judgement of this Court who:

  1. due to discovery of new and important matter or evidence which, after exercise of due diligence was not within the knowledge of the person aggrieved or the person seeking review could not be produced by him at the time when the decree was passed or order made.

  2. due to a mistake or error apparent on the face of the record.

  3. on account of any other sufficient reason.

The petitioners were contending through the third ground that the reason must be sufficient to the Court to which the application for review was made.

Justice Nagarathna observed that even though the expression ‘for any other sufficient reason' was wide enough to take within its scope many circumstances, however, if, on a question of law, a decision of a Court is reversed by a subsequent decision of a superior Courtland the same is reopened on the basis of the said subsequent decision, there would be no finality of judgments of the Court even between the parties thereto.

“There would be chaos and no finality of any decision of a Court which is against public policy. Judgments rendered by a Court of competent jurisdiction as per the prevailing law are binding on the parties to the said judgment.”

Justice Nagarathna stated that merely because that judgment was subsequently overruled, the same shall not be a ground for review of such judgment and cannot be on the ground or reason covered in Explanation to Order XLVII Rule 1 CPC.

Justice Nagarathna navigated through various maxims to support her reasonings which indicated that there must be an end to litigation otherwise the rights of persons would be in an endless confusion and justice would suffer:

  1. Nemo debet bis vexari pro una et eadem causa No man should be vexed twice for the same cause.

  2. Interest reipublicae ut sit finis litium It is in the interest of the State that there should be an end to a litigation.

  3. Res judicata pro veritate occipitur A judicial decision must be accepted as correct.

Justice Nagarathna further relied upon Nalagarh Dehati Coop Transport Society v. Beli Ram 1980 SCC OnLine HP 13 which had held that a subsequent judgment of the Supreme Court or a larger Bench of the same Court taking a contrary view on the point covered by the judgment does not amount to a mistake or error apparent on the face of the record of the judgment sought to be reviewed.

It was further noted that Section 24 of the L.A. Act, 2013 was in a nature of a saving clause whose object was to save the acquisition. The Court had reserved liberty of petitioners to initiate acquisition proceedings afresh within one year failing which the land was to be returned to land owners.

Therefore, Justice Nagarathna was of the view that the only relief that could be granted to the petitioners was to extend the period for initiation of acquisition under the provisions of L.A. Act, 2013 to a period of one year from the date of judgment. Till then, in those cases where physical possession of land had already been taken over by the acquiring body or had been handed over to the beneficiary, it shall continue to remain with the acquiring body or the beneficiary, as the case may be. By way of the same, she was of the view that the impugned judgement of this Court was not being reviewed in the review petitions.

Justice M.R. Shah opined that the judgement under review was passed relying on the decision of Pune Municipal Corp which was overruled by the Constitution Bench. Considering the factual aspects, Justice Shah decided to allow the review applications filed by the acquiring authorities or the State. He stated that it will be in the larger public interest to allow the review applications, considering that the land acquisitions would lapse otherwise.

[Govt. of NCT of Delhi v. K.L. Rathi Steels Limited, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 288, decided on 17-03-2023]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

For the petitioners- Senior Advocate Sanjay Poddar

For the respondents- Senior Advocate Shyam Divan, Senior Advocate V. Giri, Senior Advocate Neeraj Kumar Jain, Senior Advocate Vivek Chib

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