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Friday, April 10, 2015

The CCL is directed to verify the claim of each of the writ petitioners and then after giving adjustment of any amount if already found paid to the writ petitioners against their claim in question, refund the balance amount along with interests at the rate of 6% to the respective writ petitioners (companies). Let this be done within three months.

                        IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
                        CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
                    CIVIL APPEAL Nos.  3399-3400  OF 2015
               (Arising out of S.L.P.(C) Nos.12925-12926/2013)

      S.J. Coke Industries Pvt. Ltd. Etc.          Appellant(s)


Central Coalfields Ltd. Etc.            Respondent(s)


                 Civil Appeal No. 3419  of 2015
(Arising out of S.L.P.(C) No.13286/2013)

Civil Appeal No. 3401 of 2015
(Arising out of S.L.P.(C) No.14148/2013)

Civil Appeal No. 3402  of 2015
(Arising out of S.L.P.(C) No.14430/2013)

Civil Appeal No.  3403  of 2015
(Arising out of S.L.P.(C) No.14576/2013)

Civil Appeal No. 3404  of 2015
(Arising out of S.L.P.(C) No.15985/2013)

Civil Appeal No. 3405  of 2015
(Arising out of S.L.P.(C) No.15986/2013)

Civil Appeal No. 3406  of 2015
(Arising out of S.L.P.(C) No.15987/2013)

Civil Appeal No. 3407  of 2015
(Arising out of S.L.P.(C) No.15989/2013)

Civil Appeal No. 3408  of 2015
(Arising out of S.L.P.(C) No.15990/2013)

Civil Appeal No. 3409  of 2015
(Arising out of S.L.P.(C) No.15991/2013)

Civil Appeal No. 3410  of 2015
(Arising out of S.L.P.(C) No.15992/2013)

Civil Appeal No. 3411  of 2015
(Arising out of S.L.P.(C) No.15993/2013)

                               J U D G M E N T
Abhay Manohar Sapre, J.
1.    Leave granted.
2.    These appeals are filed against the common judgment  and  order  dated
14.12.2012 passed by the High Court of Judicature at Patna  in  L.P.A.  Nos.
1574, 1581, 1504, 1571, 1597 and  1591  of  2012  and  judgment/order  dated
18.01.2013 in L.P.A. No. 85 of 2013  whereby  the  High  Court  allowed  the
appeals filed by the Central Coalfields Ltd.  (hereinafter  referred  to  as
"the CCL") and while setting aside the judgment  and  order  of  the  Single
Judge dismissed the writ petitions filed by the S.J.  Coke  Industries  Pvt.
Ltd. Etc.Etc.(hereinafter referred to as "the Companies").
3.    In order to appreciate the issues involved in  these  appeals,  it  is
necessary to state the background of the facts, which led to filing  of  the
writ petitions by the Companies, which have given rise to these appeals.
4.    These Companies are private limited  companies  registered  under  the
Companies Act, 1956. They are engaged in the business of sale  and  purchase
of various grades of Coal. The CCL is a Public  Sector  Undertaking  of  the
Government of India engaged in the business of producing various  grades  of
Coal. The CCL sells coal  to  several  bulk  coal  consumers  including  the
present Companies, who are linked consumer of the Coal. The  Coal  being  an
essential commodity, its prices and mode of disposal  are  governed  by  the
Acts/Regulations/Control  Orders  and  the  Policies  made  by  the  Central
Government/Coal Companies from time to time.
5.    With a view to further streamline the sale  and  distribution  of  the
Coal to its consumers all over the Country, the Union  of  India  enacted  a
Scheme in the year 2004-2005 for sale of  Coal  by  electronic  auction  (e-
auction). The Scheme inter alia provided the manner and  the  mode  relating
to sale, distribution and pricing of various grades of coal. The Coal  India
Ltd and its several subsidiary  companies  including  the  CCL  adopted  the
Scheme for its implementation.
6.    The legality and validity of the Scheme was challenged by filing  writ
petitions in various High Courts  by  the  traders,  and  several  companies
dealing with coal. So far as the  present  Companies  were  concerned,  they
filed writ petitions before the Jharkhand High Court.  During  the  pendency
of  the  writ  petitions,  different  High  Courts  passed  interim   orders
directing the writ petitioners to furnish  indemnity  bonds/Bank  Guarantees
for the amount of  difference  between  the  notified  price  and  e-auction
weighted average price of the Coal fixed in the Scheme.
7.    Some High Courts decided the writ  petitions  finally  on  merits  and
while allowing the  writ  petitions  declared  the  Scheme  as  ultra  vires
whereas some High Courts dismissed the writ petitions and upheld the  Scheme
as being legal and proper. In some High Courts, the writ petitions  remained
pending.  The appeals were filed in this Court arising out of  the  disposed
of matters by both parties.  This  Court  then  passed  an  order  directing
transfer of all pending writ petitions in various High Courts to this  Court
and tagged them with a bunch of the writ petitions/appeals pending  in  this
Court and made Ashoka Smokeless Coal Industries (P) Ltd. & Ors.   vs.  Union
of India & Ors. as the main matter for disposal.
8.    Accordingly,  Ashoka Smokeless Coal India (P) Ltd. was  taken  up  for
consideration  along  with  other  connected  matters  to  decide  the  main
question as to whether e-auction Scheme framed by the  Union  of  India  was
legal or not.  In other words, the question  was  which  view  of  the  High
Court was correct - the one that held the Scheme as legal or the other  that
held the Scheme as bad in law?
9.    This Court passed one common interim order  on  12.12.2005  in  Ashoka
Smokeless Coal Industries (P) Ltd. & Ors.   Vs.   Union   of  India  &  Ors.
(2006) 9 SCC 228 by modifying several  interim  orders,  directed  the  writ
petitioners to go on paying the price in addition to the notified  price  of
the coal 33-1/3% of the enhanced price each  time  they  claimed  supply  of
coal and to furnish security for the balance 66-2/3% of the  enhanced  price
of the Coal fixed in the Scheme.
10.   This Court by its final decision rendered  in  Ashoka  Smokeless  Coal
Industries (P) Ltd. & Ors. Vs. Union of India & Ors. on  01.12.2006,  (2007)
2 SCC 640 allowed the writ petitions and held that  the  e-  auction  Scheme
was violative of Article 14 of the Constitution  of  India  and,  therefore,
ultra  vires  to  the  Constitution.  The  entire   e-auction   Scheme   was
accordingly quashed. In the light of this decision,  the  judgments  of  the
High Courts which had upheld the Scheme were set aside whereas  those  which
had declared the Scheme as ultra vires were upheld.  As  a  result,  several
writ petitions pending in various High Courts were disposed of in the  light
of  this  decision.  Thereafter  by  order  dated  30.10.2007  in   Transfer
Petitions/Contempt Petitions, this Court directed refund  of  excess  amount
to the writ petitioners for which  the  sureties/Bank  Guarantees  had  been
furnished.   So far as the present companies were concerned, their claim  in
the writ petitions was for the months of April, July and October, 2005.
11.   The decision rendered in Ashoka  Smokeless  Coal  India  Ltd.  (supra)
gave rise to filing of several writ petitions  by  similarly  situated  coal
consumers in different High Courts such as Patna, Calcutta,  Jharkhand  etc.
seeking mandamus against the Coal Companies  to  refund  the  excess  amount
with interest which was realized by  the  coal  companies  pursuant  to  the
Scheme from the writ petitioners.
12.   The Single Judge of the Patna High Court  by  order  dated  01.07.2009
passed in Bhagwati Coke Industries Pvt. Ltd. & Ors. vs.  Central  Coalfields
Ltd. & Ors. (CWJC 7753/2008) allowed the  writ  petition  and  directed  the
Central  Coalfields  Ltd.  to  refund  the  entire  amount  which  they  had
collected from the writ petitioners in excess of the notified price  of  the
coal pursuant to the Scheme along with 12% interest.
13.   Feeling aggrieved by this order, the CCL  filed  L.P.A.  No.  1094  of
2009. By order dated 17.02.2010,  the  Division  Bench  of  the  High  Court
dismissed the appeal but reduced the rate  of  interest  payable  on  excess
refund amount from 12% to 6%. Dissatisfied with the said order, the  Central
Coalfields Ltd. filed Special Leave Petition (c) No. 17406/2010 before  this
Court. By order dated 19.07.2010, this Court  dismissed  the  special  leave
petition in limine and confirmed the order passed by the Division Bench.
14.   It may be pertinent to mention here that  similar  writ  petition  was
filed in the Calcutta High Court by the coal trader (Tetulia Coke Plant  (P)
Ltd.)  seeking refund of excess amount paid by them pursuant to  the  Scheme
to Eastern Coalfields Ltd.  with interest. The Division Bench  of  the  said
High Court by order dated 04.10.2010 allowed the writ petition and issued  a
mandamus directing the Eastern Coalfields Ltd. to refund the  entire  amount
which they had collected in excess from the writ petitioner pursuant to  the
Scheme. Felt aggrieved, the Eastern  Coalfields  Ltd.  filed  Special  Leave
Petition before this Court. By reasoned order dated  10.08.2011  in  Eastern
Coalfields Ltd. Vs. Tetulia Coke Plant Private Ltd. &  Ors.  (2011)  14  SCC
624, this Court dismissed the appeal and affirmed the order of the  Calcutta
High Court.
15.   It is with these background facts in relation to the legality  of  the
e-auction  Scheme  which  finally  terminated  in  writ  petitioners'  (coal
consumer/trader/supplier) favour on 1.12.2006 when this  Court  struck  down
the e-auction Scheme in the Case of Ashoka Smokeless Coal India (Supra)  and
on 19.07.2010 when this Court dismissed the SLP filed by Central  Coalfields
Ltd.  and confirmed the order of the Patna High  Court  which  had  directed
refund of excess amount recovered  by  the  Coal  Companies  from  the  writ
petitioners with interests at the rate of 6% which  had  become  payable  to
writ petitioners consequent upon the scheme - being declared bad in  law  in
Ashoka Smokeless Coal India (Supra)  and  lastly  again  on  10.08.2011   in
Eastern Coalfields Ltd. Vs. Tetulia Coke Plant Private  Ltd.  &  Ors.(supra)
when this Court dismissed the appeal filed by the  Eastern  Coalfields  Ltd.
which arose out of the order passed  by  the  Calcutta  High  Court  on  the
similar  issue  of  refund  of  excess  amount  which  had  become   payable
consequent upon declaration of e-auction Scheme as bad in law,  the  present
Companies filed  writ petitions on 10.08.2010  and  07.09.2010  against  the
Central Coalfields Ltd. before the High Court of Patna out  of  which  these
appeals arise and claimed refund of entire excess amount of  the  difference
paid between the notified prices of the Coal and the one fixed  pursuant  to
the e-auction Scheme with interest .
16.   According to the Companies,  they  were  entitled  to  get  refund  of
excess amount with interest from  the  CCL  consequent  upon  the  e-auction
Scheme being declared bad in law by this Court and further in the  light  of
law laid down in two decisions  of  this  Court  rendered  in  the  case  of
Central Coalfields Ltd. (supra) and Eastern Coalfields Ltd. (supra)  because
their cases  were  identical  in  nature  in  all  respects  with  the  writ
petitioners of these two cases decided by this  Court.  Other  traders  like
the present Companies  also  filed  writ  petitions  claiming  same  reliefs
against the respective Coalfield companies.
17.   The CCL contested the writ petitions essentially on  two  grounds.  In
the first place, it was contented that the writ petition was  liable  to  be
dismissed on the ground of  delay  and  laches  on  the  part  of  the  writ
petitioners because it was filed to claim refund of excess payment  made  in
April 2005 to October 2005 in the year 2010. In the  second  place,  it  was
contended that keeping in view the principle of undue  enrichment  operating
against the writ petitioners involving disputed issues of  facts,  the  writ
petitioners were not entitled to claim refund of any excess amount  in  writ
18.   The Single Judge repelled both the contentions of the  CCL  and  while
allowing the writ petitions issued a mandamus directing the  CCL  to  refund
the entire excess amount paid by the writ petitioners to CCL pursuant to  e-
auction Scheme to the writ petitioners with interest payable on such  amount
at the rate of 6%.
19.   Felt aggrieved, the CCL filed LPAs before the High Court of Patna  out
of which these appeals arise. By impugned order, the Division Bench  allowed
the appeals and while setting aside the order of the Single Judge  dismissed
the writ petitions filed by the Companies on the grounds that  firstly,  the
claim of the writ petitioners was not based on any fundamental or  statutory
right but was based on contract  and  hence  it  was  not  maintainable  and
secondly, the claim was not based on any  direction  issued  by  this  Court
or/and the High Court to refund the amount in question and lastly  the  writ
petition was barred by limitation. So far  as  the  contention  of  the  CCL
relating to principle of undue enrichment was concerned, the  same  did  not
find favour to the Division Bench and was accordingly  decided  against  CCL
holding that  since  the  writ  petitioners'  claim  does  not  involve  any
adjudication  of  disputed  facts,  therefore,  it  was  capable  of   being
entertained in the writ petitions.
20.   It is apposite to reproduce the finding of the Division Bench  on  the
aforementioned issues infra.
"We are unable to agree with Mr. Parasharan as  to  the  maintainability  of
the writ petitions on the ground of disputed questions of  fact.   The  writ
petitioners have made categorical statements that  prior  to  12th  December
2005 they did purchase coal from the appellants at the rate determined by e-
auction  i.e.  at  the  rate  higher  than  the  notified  rate.   The  writ
petitioners have also brought on record the particulars of the sale  orders,
the date and quantity of supply, the price paid and the amount liable to  be
refunded.  The said specific statements made in the writ petitions  are  not
categorically denied by the appellants.  A  bare  statement  that  the  writ
petitions involved disputed questions of fact will not  take  the  petitions
out of the jurisdiction of this Court.  In absence of specific  denial,  the
contention ought to be rejected and is rejected.  We are also not  impressed
by the argument that the claim  of  the  writ  petitioners  requires  to  be
rejected on the principles of unjust enrichment.  The matter at  hand  is  a
purely  commercial  transaction  between  the   appellant   and   the   writ
petitioners.  The principle of  unjust  enrichment  has  been  developed  in
respect of the statutory dues payable to the Government by way  of  a  tax/a
duty/a fee.  The principle has not  yet  been  extended  to  the  commercial
transactions of the Government which are governed by  terms  and  conditions
of the contract.  We do not propose to expand the horizons.  The  contention
is rejected.
In our opinion, in any view of the matter,  the  writ  petitioners  are  not
entitled to the relief for,

(i)    The claim for refund made by the writ     petitioners  is  not  based
on a fundamental or a statutory right;

the refund claimed by the writ petitioners arise from  a  contract  of  sale
and purchase;
the claim is not supported by  any  direction  of  the  High  Court  or  the
Hon'ble Supreme Court for refund of such amounts; the question of  honouring
the direction of the Hon'ble Supreme  Court  or  the  High  Court  does  not
arise, and;
indisputably, the claim has been made after expiry of period  of  limitation
prescribed for bringing a civil action."
21.   Feeling aggrieved, both parties i.e. writ petitioners (companies)  and
the Central Coalfields Ltd.  (CCL)  have  filed  these  appeals  by  way  of
special leave before this Court.
22.   So far as the writ petitioners (companies) are  concerned,  they  have
filed appeals against the findings, which resulted  in  dismissal  of  their
writ petitions whereas so far as Central Coalfields Ltd (CCL) is  concerned,
they have challenged the finding of undue enrichment, which was  decided  by
the Division Bench against them.
23.   This is how the entire controversy is now under challenge before  this
Court in these appeals  at the instance of both the parties to the  original
writ petitions.
24.   Heard learned counsel for the parties.
25.    Mr.  S.D.  Sanjay,  learned  Senior   Counsel   appearing   for   the
Companies(writ petitioners) while assailing the legality and correctness  of
the  impugned  judgment  of  the  Division  Bench  urged  five  submissions.
Firstly, he contended that the Division Bench erred in allowing the  appeals
filed by the CCL thereby erred in dismissing the writ petitions, which  were
rightly allowed by the Single Judge (writ  court).  According  to  him,  the
appeals of the CCL should have been dismissed by upholding the order of  the
Single Judge.
26.   Secondly, learned senior counsel contended  that  the  Division  Bench
erred in holding that the writ petitions filed by  the  Companies  were  not
maintainable because the claim for which the writ petitions were  filed  was
not based on any statutory or  fundamental  rights  but  was  based  on  the
contractual rights of the  Companies.  According  to  learned  counsel,  the
finding on this issue is entirely untenable because this issue  was  already
considered and dealt with by this Court in the case  of  Eastern  Coalfields
Ltd.(supra) and was rejected finding no merit therein.  It  was,  therefore,
his  submission  that  the  finding  of  this  Court  rendered  in   Eastern
Coalfields Ltd.(supra) was binding on the High  Court,  which  unfortunately
was neither noticed much less given effect to while deciding the issue.
27.   Thirdly, learned counsel contended that the Division  Bench  erred  in
holding that the writ petitions  filed  by  the  Companies  were  barred  by
limitation because they were filed beyond the period  of  three  years  from
the date of accrual of cause of action. According to learned  Counsel,  this
finding is equally untenable in law for the reason that firstly  this  issue
was considered, dealt with and  then  rejected  by  this  Court  in  Eastern
Coalfields Case; secondly, the cause of action to  file  writ  petition  for
claiming refund of excess amount arose on 19.07.2010 when the SLP  filed  by
the Central Coalfields (CCL) was dismissed (Annexure-14) by  this  Court  in
limine thereby finally settling the controversy relating to claim of  refund
of excess amount; thirdly, though law of limitation did  not  apply  to  the
writ petitions yet the Companies filed the writ petitions within  one  month
(10.08.2010) from the date of dismissal of SLP by  this  Court  (19.07.2010)
in the case of CCL and hence the writ petitions should  have  been  held  to
have been filed within reasonable time from the date of accrual of cause  of
action.  In other words, it should not have been dismissed on the ground  of
delay and laches.
28.   Fourthly, learned Counsel contended that once the issues  in  question
at the instance of similarly situated person  were  settled  by  this  Court
then every one alike was entitled  to  get  the  benefit  of  such  decision
against the State or/and its instrumentality on the  principle  of  equality
enshrined  under  Article  14.  Since  the  cases  of  the  Companies  (writ
petitioners) were identical  to  the  case  of  writ  petitioners  who  were
parties to the case of Central Coalfields Ltd. and Eastern  Coalfields  Ltd.
wherein all the issues raised by the CCL  were  discussed  thread  bear  and
eventually rejected by this Court, the CCL was not  entitled  to  raise  the
same pleas again in these appeals to persuade this Court to take a  contrary
view to the one taken in Eastern Coalfields  Ltd.  (supra)  case  except  to
accept the verdict  of  this  Court  rendered  in  Eastern  Coalfields  Ltd.
(supra) case for grant of same benefit to  all  similarly  situated  persons
such as the appellants herein.
29.   Fifthly, learned counsel contended that  the  Division  Bench  rightly
decided the issue of undue enrichment against the CCL because this Court  in
Eastern Coalfields Ltd.(supra) has already rejected the  said  plea  finding
no merit therein. In other words, the submission was  that  the  finding  of
the Division Bench on the issue of undue enrichment was in  conformity  with
the law laid down by this Court in Eastern  Coalfields  Ltd.  and  hence  it
should be upheld by this Court by dismissing the appeals filed by  the  CCL.
In the alternative, it was also urged that the  appeals  filed  by  the  CCL
were not maintainable because when  the  entire  impugned  judgment  was  in
their favour which resulted in allowing their appeal, then in such event  no
appeal would lie against the finding only.
30.   Mr.  Gaurav  Agrawal,  learned  counsel  appearing  for  some  of  the
companies while pointing out some factual distinguishable  features  in  his
appeals, adopted the aforesaid arguments of Mr. S.D. Sanjay, learned  senior
counsel appearing for other Companies.
31.   In contra,  learned  counsel  appearing  for  the  CCL  supported  the
impugned judgment on the reasoning and the eventual  conclusion  reached  by
the Division Bench and contended that both deserves to  be  upheld.  Learned
counsel further urged in support of their appeals that  the  Division  Bench
erred in deciding the issue of undue enrichment against the  CCL.  According
to learned counsel,  it  should  have  been  decided  in  their  favour  for
dismissal of the writ petitions.
32.   Having heard the learned Counsel the parties and  on  perusal  of  the
record of the case, we find force in the submissions of learned counsel  for
the Companies (writ  petitioners)  and  hence  are  inclined  to  allow  the
appeals filed by the writ petitioners (companies).
33.   In our  considered  view,  all  the  issues  arising  in  these  cases
including the submissions urged by the learned counsel for  the  parties  as
mentioned above were already decided by this Court in the  case  of  Eastern
Coalfields Ltd. (supra)  and  hence  the  writ  petitions  and  the  appeals
arising therefrom should have  been  decided  by  the  writ  court  and  the
appellate court (Division Bench) in the light of the law laid  down  in  the
said decision.
34.   It is really unfortunate that though the decision  of  this  Court  in
the Eastern  Coalfields  Ltd.(supra)  was  holding  the  field  having  been
rendered during the pendency of the writ petition on 10.08.2011 yet  neither
the Single Judge who decided the writ petition on  02.04.2012  and  nor  the
Division Bench who decided  the  appeal  on  14.12.2012  took  note  of  the
decision much less referred to it in their respective judgments. We  cannot,
therefore, countenance the approach of the two courts below in deciding  the
issue though it was of reversal.
35.   Article 141 of the Constitution provides  that  the  law  declared  by
this Court shall be binding on all Courts within  the  territory  of  India.
Therefore, once this  Court  decided  the  issue  in  the  case  of  Eastern
Coalfields  Ltd.(supra)  on  10.08.2011  by  passing  a  reasoned  order,  a
fortiori, the ratio decidendi declared in the said decision was  binding  on
all the Courts in the country for giving effect to  it  while  deciding  the
lis of the same nature. Both the Courts below were, therefore,  under  legal
obligation to have taken note of the said  decision  and  then  should  have
decided the writ petition/appeal  in  conformity  with  the  law  laid  down
therein. It was more so because controversy involved in both the  cases  was
similar in nature.
36.   As observed supra, both the Courts failed to do so  thereby  rendering
the impugned decision bad in law.
37.   When we peruse the decision of Eastern Coalfields  Ltd.,  we  find  no
factual distinction between the facts of  the  case  in  hand  and  the  one
involved in Eastern Coal Fields Ltd.. It is apposite to quote paragraphs  9,
10 and 11 of the judgment in Eastern Coalfields (supra) which will show  the
similarity in these two cases :
"9. There is no dispute with regard to the fact that  the  legality  of  the
scheme of e-auction was challenged by filing writ petitions in various  High
Courts by the traders  and  companies  dealing  with  coal.  Some  of  those
petitions were transferred to this Court pursuant  to  the  orders  of  this
Court, the leading case being Ashoka Smokeless Coal India (P)  Ltd.(2007)  2
SCC 640 which was taken up for consideration along  with  connected  matters
and the same were disposed of by this Court and the  said  decision  is  now
reported in Ashoka Smokeless. By the  aforesaid  judgment,  this  Court  has
upheld the challenge of the writ petitioners to the legality of  the  scheme
of e-auction. The aforesaid prayer of the writ petitioners was accepted  and
this Court held that the scheme of e-auction was invalid  and  violative  of
Article 14 of the Constitution of India and, therefore, it was  declared  to
be ultra vires to the Constitution and  this  Court  quashed  the  e-auction
10. It must be indicated herein that the present respondent also  filed  the
writ petition in question in the Calcutta High Court  before  the  aforesaid
decision was rendered and in his case also an interim order  was  passed  by
the Calcutta High Court. After the disposal of Ashoka Smokeless  Coal  India
(P) Ltd., the writ  petition  filed  by  the  respondent  herein  which  was
pending was also considered and the same was allowed following the  decision
of this Court in Ashoka Smokeless Coal India (P) Ltd. as by  that  decision,
this Court has declared the entire scheme to be invalid and ultra  vires  to
the Constitution. Therefore, any action taken pursuant to  the  said  scheme
is also illegal and null and void. Following the ratio of the said  decision
this Court directed the coal companies to refund the price of the coal  paid
in excess  of  the  notified  price  under  the  e-auction  scheme.  Certain
guidelines were also laid down as to how such payments are to be  made.  The
said decision of the learned Single Judge was upheld by the  Division  Bench
of the High Court by affirming the conclusions and analysing all the  issues
that were raised before it.
11. We are unable  to  accept  the  contention  of  the  learned  Additional
Solicitor General that whatever is challenged in  the  present  petition  is
only an interim order. It is not so  because  the  respondents  herein  also
challenged the legality of the e-auction scheme in the  writ  petition.  The
High Court has not disposed of only an interim prayer but  has  disposed  of
the entire  writ  petition  by  its  judgment  and  order  dated  25-3-2010.
Consequently, it must also be held that when the entire  scheme  is  set  at
naught by this Court, whatever action has been taken following the  said  e-
auction by the Coal Company has  also  been  declared  to  be  illegal  and,
therefore, the Coal Company has become liable to  refund  the  entire  money
which  was  collected  in  excess  of  the  notified  price.  That  is   the
consequence of quashing of the scheme and the same came to be reiterated  by
this Court while  contempt  petitions  were  filed  and  were  disposed  of.
Therefore, it cannot be said that the effect of the [pic]decision of  Ashoka
Smokeless Coal India (P) Ltd. would be restricted only to those cases  which
were before this  Court  and  not  for  all  cases  which  were  pending  in
different High Courts at that stage,  at  least  to  the  issues  which  are
common in nature."

Perusal of the aforequoted paragraphs would go to show that  this  Court  in
no uncertain terms held in Eastern Coalfields case (supra) that  benefit  of
decision rendered  in  the  Ashoka  Smokeless  Coal  India  (supra)  is  not
confined to those who were parties to those cases but it  would  be  to  all
regardless of the fact whether they were party to the case or not.(see  Para
11 of the extracted  portion  above).  This  Court,  therefore,  upheld  the
relief of refund of excess amount, which was granted to the writ  petitioner
by the High Court of Calcutta and accordingly dismissed the appeal filed  by
the Eastern Coalfields Ltd.
38.   Like wise, this Court while expressly dealing  with  the  question  of
undue  enrichment  raised  by  the  Eastern  Coalfields  repelled  the  said
submission finding no merit therein in paragraph 12 in following words:
"12. The learned Additional Solicitor General has also submitted  before  us
that the respondents are not entitled to the benefit, if they are  otherwise
entitled to on the principles of unjust enrichment.  We  specifically  asked
the learned Additional Solicitor General during the course of the  arguments
to show us whether any such plea was taken in the writ  petition  which  was
filed before the learned Single  Judge.  The  learned  Additional  Solicitor
General was unable to show that any such defence or  plea  was  taken  about
unjust enrichment in the pleadings filed before the  learned  Single  Judge.
Such an issue was also not argued before the  learned  Single  Judge  as  no
such reference is there in the order of the learned  Single  Judge.  It  is,
however, stated by the learned Additional Solicitor  General  that  such  an
issue was raised before the Division Bench. But we could not find  the  same
raised in the pleadings nor was it considered. But a mention is made in  the
judgment that such  a  plea  was  argued.  However,  on  going  through  the
records, we find that no such  ground  has  also  been  taken  even  in  the
memorandum of appeal filed in the present appeal. Therefore, without  taking
a plea of unjust enrichment either in  the  writ  petition  or  before  this
Court, we are not inclined to allow him to argue the plea  at  the  time  of
argument and entertain such a plea, particularly, in view of the  fact  that
the respondents did not have any notice of such a plea taken for  the  first
time at argument stage."

 39.  It is, therefore, clear that the express challenge  laid  before  this
Court  at  the  instance  of  Eastern  Coalfields  on  the  issue  of  undue
enrichment was repelled.  In this view of the matter, we fail to  appreciate
as to on what basis, the another Coal Company  alike  Eastern  Coal  Company
can now be allowed to raise the same plea again in  these  proceedings  only
because this matter arise from another High Court. In other  words,  we  are
of the considered opinion that this  Court  having  rejected  the  issue  of
undue enrichment in the case of Eastern  Coalfields  (supra)  while  dealing
with the similar controversy, the same issue is no longer available  to  any
other Coal Company to raise in similar pending proceedings.  It is  more  so
when no distinguishing feature  in  both  the  cases  were  brought  to  our
40.   Coming now to the issue of refund of  excess  amount  payable  to  the
writ petitioners, we find that this Court has examined  the  said  issue  in
para 13 and decided in favour of the writ petitioners in following words.

"13. In the present case, it is a case of refund of price recovered  by  the
appellant in excess and not of any kind of payment of tax or duty.  Besides,
the appellant has already refunded  such  excess  amount  realised  to  many
other parties without raising any such plea. If anything is done by a  party
in violation of the law, consequence has to follow and  they  are  bound  to
return the money to the parties from whom excess amount has  been  realised.
There is also no document placed on record in  support  of  any  such  plea.
Bald allegation of this nature cannot be accepted particularly when no  such
plea has been raised in this Court."

41.   In the light of aforesaid law laid down, we find no  justification  to
deny the benefit of such law to the present Companies(writ  petitioners)  on
the ground of parity  with the writ petitioner of  Central  Coalfields  Ltd.
and Eastern Coalfields Ltd case.
42.   As  taken  note  of  supra,  in  our  opinion  having  regard  to  the
background facts of this case, the right to  file  writ  petition  to  claim
refund of excess amount arose after the issue  was  decided  by  this  Court
firstly on 19.07.2010 when this Court dismissed the  SLP  filed  by  Central
Coalfield Ltd. in limine and upheld the reasoned order  of  the  Patna  High
Court on this very issue.  It is not in dispute  that  the  Companies  filed
the writ petitions on 10.08.2010 (within one month  from  the  date  of  the
decision of this  Court  in  Central  Coalfields  Ltd.  case).  Indeed,  the
Companies could have  filed  the  writ  petitions  even  subsequent  to  the
decision rendered  in  the  case  of  Eastern  Coalfield  Ltd.  (10.08.2011)
because it is in this case, this Court rendered a reasoned judgment  finally
repelling all the objections of Coal Companies  on  merits  and  upheld  the
right of the writ petitioners to claim refund of excess  amount  which  they
had paid to CCL and other coal fields pursuant to the Scheme.
43.   We cannot, therefore, concur with  the  view  taken  by  the  Division
Bench when it proceeded to dismiss the  writ  petitions  on  the  ground  of
delay and laches. The Single Judge, in our  view,  rightly  entertained  the
writ petitions on merits and proceeded to grant relief  as  claimed  by  the
companies in the writ petition and  the  Division  Bench,  in  our  opinion,
should have upheld the view of the Single Judge.
44.   In the light of foregoing  discussion,  we  find  that  all  the  five
submissions  urged  by  the  learned  counsel  for   the   Companies   (writ
petitioners)  found  acceptance  to  this  court  in  the  case  of  Eastern
Coalfields Ltd., and hence the same deserves to be accepted  while  deciding
these  appeals  by  placing  reliance  on  the  law  laid  down  in  Eastern
Coalfields Ltd.  We, therefore, do  not  consider  necessary  to  deal  with
these submissions again on their respective  merits  elaborately  by  taking
note of various case law cited by learned counsel for the appellant.
45.   Since we have rejected the ground  taken  by  the  Central  Coalfields
India Ltd. (CCL) in relation to undue enrichment on  merits,  and  hence  we
express no opinion as to whether the appeals filed by them only against  the
finding is maintainable or not. We also find that  no  prayer  was  made  by
learned counsel for the CCL to treat or convert the appeals filed by CCL  as
memorandum of cross objection under Order 41 Rule 22 of the  Code  of  Civil
Procedure, 1908, in appeals filed by companies  so  as  to  enable  them  to
challenge the impugned finding under order 41 Rule 22. We also do  not  wish
to examine the question as to whether  cross  objection  is  permissible  on
behalf of respondent in an appeal arising out of  SLP  filed  under  Article
136 and leave all these questions open to be decided in an appropriate  case
as and when occasion arises in future.
46.   Before parting with the case, we consider it opposite  to  state  that
this case reminds us  of  the  subtle  observations  made  by  Justice  M.C.
Chagla, Chief Justice of Bombay High Court in Firm Kaluram Sitaram  Vs.  The
Dominion of India, AIR 1954 Bombay 50. The  learned  Chief  Justice  in  his
distinctive style of writing held as under:

"....we have often had occasion to say that when  the  State  deals  with  a
citizen it should not ordinarily rely on technicalities, and  if  the  State
is satisfied that the case of the citizen is a just one, even  though  legal
defences may be open to it, it  must  act,  as  has  been  said  by  eminent
judges, as an honest person.........."

47.   Keeping in view the stand taken by the CCL and  the  manner  in  which
they contested the cases at all stages in different High Courts and in  this
Court by raising same pleas despite their adjudication by  this  Court  lead
us to draw a conclusion that untenable pleas were being raised by  CCL  just
to defeat the legitimate claim of the citizens determined  in  their  favour
by this Court in earlier litigations and which was known to CCL.
48.   In view of  foregoing  discussion,  the  appeals  filed  by  the  writ
petitioners i.e. appeals arising out of S.L.P.(c) Nos.  12925-12926,  13286,
14148, 14576,  15992  &  15993  of  2013  deserve  to  be  allowed  and  are
accordingly allowed though on different reasons which we have  given  above.
As a consequence, the impugned judgments/orders are set aside  and  that  of
the Single Judge restored.
49.   As a consequence, the appeals filed by the Central Coalfields  Ltd.  -
C.A. arising out of S.L.P.(c) Nos. 14430, 15985, 15986, 15987, 15989,  15990
and 15991 of 2013 stand dismissed.
50.   The CCL  is  directed  to  verify  the  claim  of  each  of  the  writ
petitioners and then after giving adjustment of any amount if already  found
paid to the writ petitioners against their claim  in  question,  refund  the
balance amount along with interests at the rate  of  6%  to  the  respective
writ petitioners (companies).  Let this be done within three months.

                             [VIKRAMAJIT SEN]

                             [ABHAY MANOHAR SAPRE]

      New Delhi;
      April 08, 2015.


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