Monday, February 26, 2024

Dignity in Retirement

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Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud has recently said that the State must ensure that judicial officers upon retirement must live a life of dignity. This is a case for all government officials

By Sujit Bhar

A Supreme Court bench, led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud and also including Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, has made a very interesting comment that can have far reaching implications as far as government officials go. The CJI has said: “Judicial officers spend the largest part of their working lives in service of the judicial institution and do not take up benefits which may be available to the other members of Bar, and thus the State must ensure that judicial officers upon retirement must live a life of dignity.”

The Court’s remarks came during the dictation of the judgment on the All India Judges Association case dealing with services and allowances to judges.

The comment is not only a reflection of the state of affairs that even Supreme Court judges face upon retirement, but also of several people in high and lower offices who retire from government employ. If he/she does not get any post-retirement work opportunity, then the person barely manages to lead a life of financial stability in these inflationary times. It is sad that officials of the state cannot afford decent and dignified lives after retirement from a job that took their blood for so long.

While the state of the entire economy is to blame for these situations, there is a need for a realignment of government salaries and post-retirement benefits, especially with the private sector offering extraordinary opportunities.

Of course, a High Court judge always has the opportunity to rejoin the Supreme Court bar—Justice Dr S Muralidhar, who retired as the Orissa High Court chief justice, is set to return as a practising lawyer at the Supreme Court and he will in all probability still be referred to as “Hon’ble Justice”—but that does not decidedly solve the financial problem of the person concerned.

Political appointments

Then, there have been cases of political appointments of retired judges as well. In September, a Supreme Court bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia was faced with a plea filed by the Bombay Lawyers Association, for whom advocate Ahmad Abdi argued that the ramifications of such appointments were disconcerting and on what effect that “may have on the independence of judiciary”. Abdi had argued that “serious questions arise when a judge, after having dealt with politically sensitive cases, accepts political appointments offered by the executive.”

The bench shot the appeal down, saying it was for the centre “to bring in a law to regulate post-retirement assignments for judges of constitutional courts”. The bench added that in absence of such a law, it has to be left to the “better sense” of the judge concerned to accept or turn down such offers.

One assumes that at least one reason for seeking out such sensitive appointments by retiring judges would be the financial benefits associated with it. Other “benefits”, if any, are not central to this particular discourse.

The salary factor

Recently, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman Dr S Somanath had lamented in an interview that the best talent doesn’t move towards ISRO. He said: “Our best talents are supposed to be engineers and they are supposed to be IITians… but, they are not joining ISRO. If we go and try to recruit from IIT, no one joins.”

He sadly narrated an experience where 60% students walked out of a recruitment drive at an IIT after they saw the pay structure.

And this is coming from the head of an organisation that has scripted history over and over again. He said that the IITians probably start with the salary which is highest at the ISRO.

Last month, Harsh Goenka, a businessman, had tweeted, saying that the salary of Somanath, who is at the top post at ISRO and also the secretary of the Department of Space, was Rs 2.5 lakh, which is the average placement package in top IITs. He also pointed out that the starting salary for engineers at ISRO was a meagre Rs 56,100.

The judiciary

The situation for judges is more critical. The work of judicial officers, judges, etc. are extremely specialised as well as sensitive.

The CJI asserted that “Judicial independence, which is necessary to maintain faith and confidence of people in the rule of law, can be assured and enhanced so long as judges are able to lead their lives with a sense of financial dignity.”

It was not about Supreme Court judges that the CJI stressed upon. He talked about the demanding conditions under which the district judiciary functions, often extending beyond the confines of conventional working hours. He said judicial work requires preparation before cases are called, as well as the handling of matters after hearings. “Hence it is a misnomer to postulate that work of a judge is assessed in terms of performance of duty during court working hours.”

It cannot be said that the government does not have the money to pay its employees. If the nation has been able to build itself to be the fifth largest economy in the world, if its GDP growth is still the highest among major economies and if thousands of crores can be spent on every small election, then the state can at least pay its officers a living wage, give them a decent life at work and dignity in his/her life beyond work.

The CJI’s comments should, therefore, carry a bigger ramification.

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