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Indian Case Summary

Reliance Industries Ltd vs Pravinbhai Jasbhai Patel & Ors on 29 August, 1997 – Case Summary

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In the case of Reliance Industries Ltd vs Pravinbhai Jasbhai Patel & Ors on 29 August 1997, the Supreme Court of India was presented with a complex legal dispute involving environmental concerns, procedural questions, and the interpretation of jurisdictional boundaries. The case was presided over by a bench consisting of S. B. Majmudar and S. Saghir Ahmad.

Facts of the Case

The case originated from a public interest litigation petition filed in the High Court of Gujarat by two agriculturists who owned lands in the Kheda district of Gujarat. They alleged that industries set up in the industrial estates at Naroda, Vatva, and Odhav, located on the outskirts of Ahmedabad city, were discharging polluted effluents into the Kharicut canal, which subsequently flowed into the Khari river. This river was the primary source of water for about 11 villages in the Kheda district, and the pollution was alleged to have rendered the water unsuitable for agricultural use. The petitioners claimed that the polluted water had also caused a loss of fertility in their agricultural lands and that water drawn from wells had a reddish color, even when drawn from a depth of about 300 feet.

Reliance Industries Ltd, the appellant in this case, was one of the respondents in the original writ petition. The Division Bench of the High Court, consisting of B.N. Kirpal, CJ. (as he then was), and H.L. Gokhale, J., allowed the writ petition and issued various directions against the polluting industries.

Issues Raised

Reliance Industries Ltd challenged the High Court’s judgment by filing a Special Leave Petition (C) No.24916 of 1995. The company’s specific contention was that it had already set up an effluent treatment plant in 1985 at a cost of Rs. 1.5 crore and that it was not discharging any polluted effluents into the canal. The Supreme Court, in response, allowed the company to make an application in the High Court for a review of the order concerning it.

The review petition was heard by another Division Bench of the High Court, consisting of H.L. Gokhale and M.S. Shah, JJ. During the pendency of the review petition, additional evidence was considered by the Bench. Ultimately, Gokhale, J., concluded that the appellant-company was not covered by the impugned directions contained in the judgment in the writ petition. However, Shah, J., disagreed and maintained the original judgment.

This difference of opinion between the two judges led to a significant procedural question: when in review proceedings arising out of the decision of the Division Bench of two learned Judges of the High Court rendered in a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, which is in the nature of original proceedings, the two learned Judges deciding the review petition differ on questions of fact or law, whether a reference to a third learned Judge is required to be made for disposal of the review petition as per the majority opinion of the three learned Judges or whether on difference of opinion between them on these questions, the petition is required to be dismissed under Order XLVII Rule 6, Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (`CPC’ for short), keeping the order, sought to be reviewed untouched.

Court’s Observations

The Supreme Court observed that review petitions are not by way of appeals before the superior Court but are by way of requests to the same Court which decided the matter, for persuading it to recall or reconsider its own decision on grounds which are legally permissible for reviewing such orders. The Court also noted that review jurisdiction takes color from the nature of the jurisdiction exercised by the Court at the time when the main

judgment, sought to be reviewed, was rendered. Review jurisdiction, therefore, cannot be said to be an independent jurisdiction sought to be exercised by the Court, separate from the nature of the jurisdiction exercised by it when the judgment sought to be reviewed was rendered by it.

The Supreme Court also examined the applicability of Clause 36 of the Letters Patent, which provides for the resolution of a difference of opinion between judges. The Court concluded that the review proceedings, arising out of a decision rendered by the Division Bench in exercise of its original jurisdiction, would partake the character of the very same exercise of original jurisdiction. The Court held that the review jurisdiction remained in the domain of original jurisdiction, which could be said to have been invoked by the appellant when it requested the Court to review its earlier decision rendered in exercise of original jurisdiction.

The Court disagreed with the High Court’s reasoning that Clause 36 of the Letters Patent does not deal with a situation where there is a conflict of decisions between the two learned Judges of the Bench sitting in review against the earlier judgment of the Division Bench of the High Court. The Supreme Court held that the wide sweep of the provisions of Clause 36 of the Letters Patent, being the paramount charter applicable to the High Court of Gujarat, could not be whittled down by the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure if they were in any way inconsistent with Clause 36 of the Letters Patent.

The Supreme Court also considered the scope and ambit of Rule 186 framed by the High Court in this connection. The Court concluded that the rules framed by the High Court could not be inconsistent with the Letters Patent. Therefore, the procedural requirements laid down by Order XLVII Rule 6 of the Code of Civil Procedure could not impede or restrict the special procedure laid down by Clause 36 of the Letters Patent.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court held that the High Court was not justified in dismissing the review petition despite the conflict of opinions between the two learned Judges. The Court set aside the decision of the High Court and held that the controversy, centering around the question on which the two learned Judges had a difference of opinion, is required to be resolved by reference to a third learned Judge for being decided as per the majority decision in the light of the opinion of the third learned Judge.