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Tripura High Court stays govt decision of putting judicial officers joining after July, 2018 under new pension scheme

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The Tripura High Court has stayed the government decision dated January 25, 2021, under which it was communicated that all such judicial officers who joined the service after July 1, 2018, would be brought under the new pension scheme and their GPF accounts would be closed.

The Court further clarified that the government shall reactivate the GPF accounts of judicial officers, even if they have joined the service on or after July 1, 2018.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice Akil Kureshi and Justice S.G. Chattopadhyay passed the order on a suo motu PIL on the issue, pertaining to pensionary benefits that new entrants to the Tripura Judicial Service after July 1, 2018 would receive.

On Monday, Government Advocate for the official respondents prayed for time for filing a reply.

In the meantime, the Law Secretary had placed before the Registry the response of the Finance Department dated September 6, 2021. On perusal of the response of the Finance Department presents a sorry state of affairs of the legal understanding and implications of the issues involved on part of the Finance Department.

The Court noted that none of the decisions of the Supreme Court brought to the notice under the note of the Chief Justice find a mention in this note. The decision of Bombay High Court was not found worth referring. The observations of the Supreme Court in earlier judgments that the judicial officers for all purposes cannot be equated with government servants and therefore their pay scales and other service conditions should be governed by independent pay commissions appointed by the Supreme Court, were ignored. While rendering a negative opinion about accepting the recommendation of the Chief Justice, the language and the tenor used leaves much to be desired.

The Court further noted that in the Past the Supreme Court has made a clear distinction between judicial officers and government servants in terms of pay and allowances. Presently, the pay scales and other service conditions of judicial officers are governed by the recommendations of the Pay Commissions appointed by the Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court is examining the question of revising pay and allowances of judicial officers where the Pay Commission appointed by the Supreme Court had already submitted its report and the Supreme Court is examining the recommendations. Under such circumstances, we would not allow the state executive decision to unilaterally and materially change the service conditions of the judicial officers”

-observed the Court.

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The High Court has fixed the matter on 15th November, 2021 for filing reply and while observing that since the Court has taken suo motu cognizance, it would require an amicus curiae to assist the Court , requested senior counsel Mr. P. Roy Barman assisted by Aradhita Debbarma to render such assistance.

It is pertinent to note that on September 02 , suo motu proceeding instituted by the High Court, for examining the legality of the decision of the State Government to bring all judicial officers of the District who joined the service after 01.07.2018 to the new pension scheme framed by the government under a notification dated 13.07.2018.

As per a notification dated July 13, 2018, the Government of Tripura has framed New Defined Contributory Pension Scheme which would be applicable to all those who joined State Government service on or after July 1, 2018. The office of the Accountant General is of the opinion that this new pension scheme would be applicable also to the judicial officers of the District Judiciary. Accordingly, instructions have been issued to bring them over to the New Contributory Pension Scheme and also to discontinue their GPF accounts.

When this decision of the State Government was brought to the notice of the Chief Justice on administrative side, he made a detailed note suggesting that such unilateral change made by the State Government regarding the post retiral benefits of the judicial officers was not permissible.

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The pay scales and other service conditions of judicial officers, so far are governed by the recommendations made by the Pay Commissions appointed by the Supreme Court whose recommendations are accepted with modifications as directed by the Supreme Court in case of All India Judges’ Association and others versus Union of India and others reported in (1993) 4 SCC 288 and (2002) 4 SCC 247.

It was pointed out that the pay scales and other service conditions of judicial officers are governed by the recommendations of the Pay Commissions appointed by the Supreme Court as accepted with modifications. Since pensionary benefits being an important element of the service condition of an employee, it was expressed that the same would continue to be governed by the orders and judgments of the Supreme Court.

At such a stage this unilateral change without consulting the Chief Justice should not have been made. Attention was also drawn to a decision of a Division Bench of Bombay High Court in case of Vihar Durve vrs. The State of Maharashtra and others dated 11th August, 2017 in which under identical circumstances the decision of the State Government was quashed. It was therefore requested that the State Government should withdraw the clarification dated 25.01.2021 and restore the GPF accounts of the judicial officers.

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