New Delhi: Supreme Court judge Justice Arun Mishra on Tuesday took strong exception to a request by parties to recuse himself from heading a Constitution Bench meant to re-examine his own judgment relating to provisions of compensation in the Land Acquisition Act.
A visibly annoyed Justice Mishra, heading a 5-judge bench, also referred to certain social media posts and articles seeking that he drop out of the bench and said they were not against a particular judge but an attempt to malign the institution. "I will be the first person to sacrifice if the integrity of institution is at stake. I am not biased and don't get influenced by anything on earth. If I am satisfied that I am biased then only I will recuse myself from hearing this case".
He was also critical of the word "impartial", used repeatedly by parties seeking his recusal, and said: "This word hurts me. Don't use it as it will send wrong message to the common man".
In February last year, Justice Mishra had authored a majority judgment which held that land acquisition by a government agency could not be quashed for delay on the part of land owners in accepting compensation within five years due to reasons such as lingering court cases.
The verdict had conflicted with a 2014 verdict of the court on grant of compensation under Section 24 of the land acquisition law of 2013. The 2014 judgment was, till Justice Mishra's judgment, considered the settled law on land acquisition compensation.
Soon after justice Mishra's judgment, a three-judge Bench led by Justice (now retired) Madan Lokur virtually stayed the operation of his bench’s verdict while questioning its propriety.
On March 6 last year, the apex court had said that a larger bench would test the correctness of the verdicts delivered by these two benches on the same issue.
As soon as the 5-judge bench, also comprising Justices Indira Banerjee, Vineet Sharan, MR Shah and S Ravindra Bhat, assembled for hearing the case on Tuesday, senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for some farmer associations and individuals raised objection over Justice Mishra hearing the matter.
He sought Justice Mishra's recusal on the ground of judicial propriety saying that the bench is examining the correctness of a verdict, which was also authored by him. "It was an over hundred page judgment in which Justice Mishra has expressed his mind and said that other view taken by a bench of similar strength is per incuriam (bad in law)," Divan said, adding that a judge cannot sit in appeal of his own judgement.
Justice Mishra, however, said: "This issue is different. It is not so simple. Letters are being written. Social media posts are there. Articles are being written in newspaper. You and I know what the issue is. I can tell you but not in open court.”
"Entire institution and the Chief Justice of India is being maligned on social media. If anyone can be maligned like this, then how will the court decide the issue? Then all of us are disqualified not only Justice Arun Mishra is disqualified."
He said the Constitution bench is sitting to interpret the provision of law and not to see the correctness of earlier verdicts and asked the parties to satisfy him as to why he should recuse himself from hearing the case.
"I may be criticised for my view, I may not be a hero and I may be a blemished person but if I am satisfied that my conscience is clear, my integrity is clear before God, I will not budge. If I think I will be influenced by any extraneous factor, I will be the first to recuse myself," he said.
He said he would like to settle the law on recusal as "if questions are raised like this against a judge of the Supreme Court then who will hear the case".
Justice Mishra added that the "question is can we not sit in the Constitution bench though it is us who referred the matter to larger bench. It is not the appeal against the verdict in which I was the party. I may change or correct my view, if persuaded".
Divan said he was concerned only with development of law and added that since the presiding judge of the Constitution bench is a signatory of the verdict whose correctness is being examined by it then there could be an element of impartiality.
Justice Mishra interjected Divan and said, "Don't use this word 'impartiality' repeatedly. It hurts me. Don't use it as it will send wrong message to the common man. You can other words or sentence to express yourself and if you want to insult the institution or the judges then you can go on. You have a licence to argue".
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Centre said: "The prayer is not for undermining a single judge but entire constitution bench judges. There is a pattern wherein two days before important matters an article appears on social media or newspaper intended to influence the hearing in the court. Nobody takes social media seriously but this pattern emerging should be taken seriously".
Divan said he cannot speak for everyone on social media but their request for recusal was meant to strengthen the apex court which is also based on local and global laws.
The hearing remained inconclusive and would continue on Wednesday.
The earlier verdicts in the two cases - Pune Municipal Corporation (2014) and the Indore Development Authority (2018) - 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.