New Delhi: In signs of fresh trouble in the Supreme Court, different benches in the top court have been at odds with each other as issues of judicial discipline and propriety take the centre-stage.
Amid questions being raised over the orders passed by the other bench, the judges have made their discontent apparent, indicating there is yet another trouble in paradise after the unprecedented press conference by four most senior judges last month.
On Thursday, the ball was lobbed in the Chief Justice of India's court by two benches, which were requested by a three-judge bench a day ago not to proceed with the land acquisition cases for the time being.
Two benches, led by Justices Arun Mishra and AK Goel respectively, referred the land acquisition cases pending before them to the CJI for taking a decision -- either on the administrative side or pass a judicial order.
The two judges took note of the order passed a day ago by the three-judge bench of Justices Madan B Lokur, Kurian Joseph and Deepak Gupta, and preferred the CJI to take a call on the issue, including a consideration to constitute a five-judge bench to decide the contentions.
What lies at the centre of the controversy is February 8-verdict by a bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Adarsh K Goel and MM Shantanagoudar, which invalidated a 2014 judgment, delivered by Justices RM Lodha, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph.
By a 2:1 majority, Justices Mishra and Goel held the 2014 judgment to be 'per incincuriam' (invalid because of lack of care and legal position).
In contrast to the 2014 judgment, this verdict also gave the government an upper hand in such matters by holding that acquisition will not lapse on account of compensation not being received by the land owners or not being deposited in the Court concerned.
On Wednesday, when a separate land acquisition matter came up before a three-judge bench comprising Justices Lokur and Joseph -- who were part of the 2014 judgment, strong remarks were made during the course of the hearing about how a bench of equal strength could invalidate a judgment by another bench.
Justice Joseph minced no words when he said he cannot remain silent anymore and that the interest of the institution requires that the Supreme Court should act like one and not 14 different courts (court rooms).
Clarifying that they were concerned about judicial discipline, propriety and consistency, they passed an interim order requesting the judges in the apex court and high courts not to decide acquisition cases until a final view is taken on referring the matter to a five-judge Constitution Bench.
When one such case came up for hearing before a bench headed by Justice Mishra, he observed that he was still of the opinion that the February 8-judgment was correct in law.
"As far as issue of judicial indiscipline is concerned, only a larger bench can decide...we will send it to the Chief Justice," said Justice Mishra.
Similarly, when a similar case came up before the bench headed by Justice Goel, he also sent the matter to the CJI.
The three-judge bench of Justice Lokur has already posted the matter for further hearing on March 7 for considering the issue of referring the matter to the CJI. Therefore, it will be significant how the CJI deals with the matter.
It is also worthwhile to recall that while Justices Lokur and Joseph were two of the four dissenting judges who held the press conference in January, Justice Mishra was dragged in the controversy over the complaints of posting of cases of national importance before some selective benches, which included his court too.