Constitution bench verdict binding on benches of lesser strength, says SC

A judgement of a Constitution bench would be "binding" on benches of lesser strength, the Supreme Court has held while recalling its April 2022 verdict in a matter related to land which was meant exclusively for common use by the inhabitants of a village in Harayna.
Constitution bench of Supreme Court
Constitution bench of Supreme Court

New Delhi | A judgement of a Constitution bench would be "binding" on benches of lesser strength, the Supreme Court has held while recalling its April 2022 verdict in a matter related to land which was meant exclusively for common use by the inhabitants of a village in Harayna.

In its order dated April 7, 2022, the apex court had held that a panchayat cannot claim ownership of the land which has been taken from the real owners from their permissible ceiling limits under the land law in Haryana.

The apex court had consequently said panchayats can only manage and control the land which has been taken from the owners and cannot claim title.

"It is pertinent to note here that for the land taken from the proprietors by applying pro-rata cut from the permissible ceiling limits of the proprietors, management and control alone vests with the panchayat but such vesting of management and control is irreversible and the land would not revert to the proprietors for redistribution as the common purposes for which land has been carved out not only include the present requirements but the future requirements as well," it had said.

The top court had delivered the verdict on a batch of appeals against a full bench verdict of the Punjab and Haryana High Court which had examined the legality of sub-section 6 of Section 2(g) of the Haryana Village Common Lands (Regulation) Act, 1961.

In a judgement delivered on Thursday, a bench of Justices B R Gavai and Sandeep Mehta said that when the high court verdict rested on the law laid down by the apex court's Constitution bench in 1966, "the least that was expected" of the court in the judgement under review was to explain as to why the high court was wrong in relying on the 1966 verdict.

"No law is required to state that a judgement of the Constitution bench would be binding on the benches of a lesser strength. Bhagat Ram (1966 verdict) has been decided by a strength of five judges, this court having a bench strength of two judges could not have ignored the law laid down by the Constitution bench in paragraph 5 in Bhagat Ram," the bench said.

The top court delivered its verdict on a plea seeking review of the April 2022 judgement.

It said that "ignoring" the law laid down by the Constitution bench and taking a view totally contrary to the same would amount to a material error, manifest on the face of the order.

"Ignoring the judgement of the Constitution bench, in our view, would undermine its soundness. The review could have been allowed on this short ground alone," it said.

While allowing the review petition, the bench said, "The judgement and order of this court dated April 7, 2022... is recalled and the appeal is restored to file." The bench directed that the appeal be listed for hearing on August 7.

The top court observed it was settled that the review would be permissible only if there was a mistake or error apparent on the face of the record or any other sufficient reason was made out.

"The review of the judgement would be permissible only if a material error, manifest on the face of the order, undermines its soundness or results in miscarriage of justice. We are also aware that such an error should be an error apparent on the face of the record and should not be an error which has to be fished out and searched," it noted.

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