Seeking to rectify an anomaly as per which High Court judges selected from the Bar get lesser pension than those elevated from state judicial services, the government plans to bring a bill to amend the law governing their salaries and service conditions. The proposal to amend the High Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Act, 1954, comes more than a year after the Supreme Court ruled that such a discrepancy must be removed.
The Law Ministry plans to bring the bill in the Monsoon session of Parliament beginning July 21. According to an apex court ruling, if the service of a judicial officer is counted for fixation of pension, there is “no valid reason” as to why the experience at Bar cannot be treated as equivalent for the same purpose.
“…we accept the petitioners’ claim and declare that for pensionary benefits, ten years’ practice as an advocate be added as a qualifying service for judges elevated from the Bar.” The apex court ruling delivered by a bench headed by then Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam on March 31, 2014 had also said that “one rank one pension must be the norm in respect of a Constitutional office.”
“The amendment bill is based on the Supreme Court judgment…we are only implementing the judgement,” a senior government functionary told PTI. The apex court ruling came on a clutch of petitions filed by former judges of the various High Courts of the country as well as by the Association of the Retired Judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts elevated from the Bar.
The petitions said that while Part-I and Part-III judges hold equivalent posts, they are not similarly situated with regard to pension and retirement benefits which is breach of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution and “one rank one pension must be the norm in respect of a constitutional office.”
The petitioners had noted that the number of years practiced as an advocate should be taken into account and be added to the service as a judge of the High Court for the purpose of determining the maximum pension permissible under Part-I of the First Schedule to the High Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Act, 1954. They had maintained that in respect of Part-III of the First Schedule, which deals with the judges elevated from the state judicial service, almost all the judges get full pension even if they have worked as a judge of a High Court for 2 or 3 years and their entire service is added to their service as a judge of the High Court for computing pension under this Part.
For this reason, the members of the subordinate judiciary get more pension than the judges elevated from the Bar on retirement. Delivering the verdict, the SC had said that “the experience and knowledge gained by a successful lawyer at the Bar can never be considered to be less important from any point of view vis-a-vis the experience gained by a judicial officer.”
Such a discrepancy does not exist in the law governing salaries and service conditions of Supreme Court judges. There are 24 High Courts in the country and the salary and pension of the judges is drawn from the Consolidated Fund of India.
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