Justice Arun Mishra, as we noted earlier, has authored 132 judgments in his 6-year tenure at the Supreme Court. Most of his judgments are on property law and land acquisition. On his retirement day, we take a look back at some of his significant judgments.
In Indore Development Authority v. Manoharlal, a Constitution Bench had to settle the interpretation of Section 24 (2) of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013. The core issue was whether land acquisition proceedings could lapse merely if the State had not deposited compensation in a landowner’s account. The Constitution Bench had to examine two three-judge precedents with conflicting decisions: Indore Development Authority v. Shailendra (Dead)  and Pune Municipal Corporation v. Harakchand Misirmal Solank . In Pune Municipal Corporation the Court had answered in positive, i.e., the acquisition proceedings could lapse if the State could not deposit the compensation in a landowners account. However, the Shailendra judgment held the opposite.
One of the first arguments before the Constitution Bench was regarding the recusal of J. Arun Mishra, as he was a part of the bench in Shailendra judgment. The counsels noted that J. Mishra suffered from a perceived bias. J. Mishra in a 60-page order dismissed claims regarding his recusal and heard the matter till its fruition. In the end, the five-judge bench sided with Shailendra which was also determined by J. Mishra.
Several prominent members of the Bar criticised J. Mishra’s refusal to recuse. One noted that J. Mishra should have recused if not in the interest of bias, at least of propriety.
In 2005, Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 (‘Act’) was amended to confer legal rights and liabilities upon daughters in the ancestral property by birth in a Hindu Undivided Family (‘HUF’), equivalent to that of a son. Since the amendment, a question that came up before the Court was whether Section 6 of the Act can be retrospectively applied? In Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma, the Court had the opportunity to clarify this issue.
J. Mishra wrote the unanimous judgment on behalf of a bench consisting of himself and Justices S Abdul Nazeer and MR Shah. The Court held: the purpose of the 2005 amendment that accorded daughters with equal rights was to ensure constitutionally protected gender justice. Concluding that the amendment must be retrospectively applied the Court further added that the amendment was made with the express intention to overrule the discriminatory and oppressive application of the original statute, and this intention must be given full effect.
While this judgment could potentially be the first step to affirm gender equality in Hindu property law, some argue that it falls short in realising a progressive, feminist framing.
State of Punjab v. Davinder Singh arose in the context of a challenge to the constitutional validity of the Punjab Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes (Reservation in Services) Act, 2006 (Act) that provided ‘first preference’ for the Balmikis and Mazbhi Sikh castes under the reservations for Scheduled Caste in public services. The Punjab and Haryana Haryana High Court relied on E.V Chinnaiah v. State of Andhra Pradesh to categorically hold that sub-classification within Scheduled Castes for the purposes of reservation would be unconstitutional.
On 27 August 2020 a five-judge bench comprising of Justices Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, M.R. Shah and Aniruddha Bose decided to refer E.V. Chinnaiah to a larger bench. J. Mishra authored a unanimous judgment on behalf of the bench. The Court disagreed with E.V. Chinnaiah. It held that inequality existed within Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes and reservation must be designed to eradicate even inter se inequality. The Court went a step ahead and noted that denial of sub-classification would result in denial of equality. The State Legislatures, who are best placed to implement statistically informed reservation policies have the power to sub-classify.
Since Davinder Singh and E.V. Chinnaiah are both judgments by coordinate benches, the Court has referred E.V. Chinnaiah to a bench larger than 5-judges.
On 22 July 2020, the Supreme Court issued Prashant Bhushan a suo moto contempt notice based on his two tweets: the first regarding the CJI riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and the second about Mr. Bhushan’s assessment of the role of the Court in the ‘destruction of democracy’. A three-member bench of the Supreme Court, comprising of Justices Arun Mishra, B.R. Gavai, and Krishna Murari, delivered their judgment, finding Mr. Bhushan guilty of having committed criminal contempt of court and in a separate sentencing judgment fined Mr. Bhushan with INR 1.
This judgment was significant in that it examined the conflict between the right to freedom of speech with contempt of court as an exception to that right. It held that for speech criticising the court to be characterised as ‘fair criticism’ and be protected under Article 19 (1) (a) it needed to be based on ‘authentic and acceptable material’. If any speech resulted in creating doubt about ‘integrity, ability and fairness of the Judge’ that would be contempt of the Court.