To negate the possibility of post-retirement ambitions influencing judicial pronouncement of judges at the doorstep of retirement, former Chief Justice of India (CJI) R M Lodha, during his tenure, mooted a radical proposal to insulate soon-to-retire judges from the lure of coveted post-retirement jobs.
He had requested the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, to bring in a system under which three months before they actually retired, Supreme Court and high court judges would be given the option to either get full salary (minus other benefits) for 10 more years after their retirement or get pension as fixed under the law.
Only those who opt for full salary would be empanelled for selection for posts that require retired Supreme Court or high court judges. However, such judges who opt for full salary would not be allowed to take up any private work, including arbitration.
Sharing his proposal with The Sunday Express, the former CJI said he had told the Prime Minister that those who opt for pension would not be in contention for any posts reserved for retired SC or HC judges.
“The idea is to insulate judges from the lure of post-retirement jobs. Judges don’t have to run after politicians for lucrative posts after retirement if they get a salary while remaining on the panel,” Justice Lodha said.
He said he had made this suggestion to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well in 2014. The proposal was communicated verbally to both prime ministers.
“That little salary burden the country may carry for 10 years. It’s a small price the country pays to get an honest, independent justice system,” he said.
Justice Lodha had proposed this to Modi during his farewell in September 2014 and to Manmohan Singh during his oath-taking ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhawan in April 2014. But nothing happened.
“I had told this to two Prime Ministers. Unfortunately, I myself could not do anything about it during my tenure as CJI. But it should be done,” he said, adding, “It’s a major reform and the push will have to come from the government on this. Certain laws need to be amended. The details can be worked out.”
According to his calculations, the number of judges retiring every year is not big enough and after exercising this option, panels of willing judges can be made at both the state and central levels. “For the state-level posts, the chief minster can consult the high court chief justice while for Centre it is the CJI who will provide names to be picked for a particular job,” he said.
The panel system will also make it known which soon-to-retire judges aspire to take up government-controlled posts after retirement. As of now, 50 per cent of the salary is calculated as pension for a retired judge.
According to conservative estimates, there are around 50 tribunals and other quasi-judicial authorities in the country which are manned by retired judges of SC and high courts. Each job comes with perks like free accommodation, cars and other paraphernalia. These jobs are in great demand among retired judges. Retired judges also get assignments for heavy duty arbitration cases, earning huge amounts by way of fees.
Incidentally, since his retirement, Justice Lodha has been approached on at least two occasions for heading an independent Commission or tribunal but he has refused, saying he would not take up any such post for at least two years after demitting office of the CJI.
The lure of post retirement jobs for judges has been at the centre of debate within the judiciary and outside, with a strong section, including those within the current NDA government, being of the opinion that post-retirement jobs can influence pre-retirement judgments of many judges.