The doctrine of merger :
The doctrine of merger is neither a doctrine of constitutional law nor a doctrine statutorily recognised. It is a common law doctrine founded on principles of propriety in the hierarchy of justice delivery system. On more occasions than one this Court had an opportunity of dealing with the doctrine of merger. It would be advisable to trace and set out the judicial opinion of this Court as it has progressed through the times.
In Commissioner of Income-tax, Bombay Vs. M/s Amritlal Bhogilal and Co. AIR 1958 SC 868 this Court held :
There can be no doubt that, if an appeal is provided against an order passed by a tribunal, the decision of the appellate authority is the operative decision in law. If the appellate authority modifies or reverses the decision of the tribunal, it is obvious that it is the appellate decision that is effective and can be enforced. In law the position would be just the same even if the appellate decision merely confirms the decision of the tribunal. As a result of the confirmation or affirmance of the decision of the tribunal by the appellate authority the original decision merges in the appellate decision and it is the appellate decision alone which subsists and is operative and capable of enforcement.
However, in the facts and circumstances of the case this Court refused to apply the doctrine of merger. There, an order of registration of a firm was made by the Income-tax Officer. The firm was then assessed as a registered firm. The order of assessment of the assessee was subjected to appeal before the Appellate Commissioner. Later on the order passed by the Income-tax Officer in respect of registration of the firm was sought to be revised by the Commissioner of Income-tax. Question arose whether the Commissioner of Income-tax could have exercised the power of revision. This Court held that though the order of assessment made by the ITO was appealed against before the Appellate Commissioner, the order of registration was not appeallable at all and therefore the order granting registration of the firm cannot be said to have been merged in the appellate order of the Appellate Commissioner. While doing so this Court analysed several provisions of the Income-tax Act so as to determine the nature and scope of relevant appellate and revisional powers and held if the subject matter of the two proceedings is not identical, there can be no merger. In State of Madras Vs. Madurai Mills Co.Ltd. AIR 1967 SC 681 this Court held that the doctrine of merger is not a doctrine of rigid and universal application and it cannot be said that wherever there are two orders, one by the inferior authority and the other by a superior authority, passed in an appeal or revision there is a fusion or merger of two orders irrespective of the subject-matter of the appellate or revisional order and the scope of the appeal or revision contemplated by the particular statute. The application of the doctrine depends on the nature of the appellate or revisional order in each case and the scope of the statutory provisions conferring the appellate or revisional jurisdiction.
In M/s Gojer Brothers Pvt.Ltd. Vs. Shri Ratanlal AIR 1974 SC 1380 this Court made it clear that so far as merger is concerned on principle there is no distinction between an order of reversal or modification or an order of confirmation passed by the appellate authority; in all the three cases the order passed by the lower authority shall merge in the order passed by the appellate authority whatsoever be its decision whether of reversal or modification or only confirmation. Their Lordships referred to an earlier decision of this court in U.J.S. Chopra Vs. State of Bombay AIR 1955 SC 633 wherein it was held.
A judgment pronounced by a High Court in exercise of its appellate or revisional jurisdiction after issue of a notice and a full hearing in the presence of both the parties would replace the judgment of the lower court, thus constituting the judgment of the High Court the only final judgment to be executed in accordance with law by the courts below.
In S.S. Rathor Vs. State of Madhya Pradesh AIR 1990- SC 10 a larger Bench of this Court (Seven-Judges) having reviewed the available decisions of the Supreme Court on the doctrine of merger, held that the distinction made between courts and tribunals as regards the applicability of doctrine of merger is without any legal justification; where a statutory remedy was provided against an adverse order in a service dispute and that remedy was availed, the limitation for filing a suit challenging the adverse order would commence not from the date of the original adverse order but on the date when the order of the higher authority disposing of the statutory remedy was passed. Support was taken from doctrine of merger by referring to C.I.T. Vs. Amritlal Bhogilal & Co. (supra) and several other decisions of this Court.
The logic underlying the doctrine of merger is that there cannot be more than one decree or operative orders governing the same subject-matter at a given point of time. When a decree or order passed by inferior court, tribunal or authority was subjected to a remedy available under the law before a superior forum then, though the decree or order under challenge continues to be effective and binding, nevertheless its finality is put in jeopardy. Once the superior court has disposed of the lis before it either way - whether the decree or order under appeal is set aside or modified or simply confirmed, it is the decree or order of the superior court, tribunal or authority which is the final, binding and operative decree or order wherein merges the decree or order passed by the court, tribunal or the authority below. However, the doctrine is not of universal or unlimited application. The nature of jurisdiction exercised by the superior forum and the content or subject-matter of challenge laid or which could have been laid shall have to be kept in view.