One rank, one pension for retired HC judges, rules SC

New Delhi: When persons who occupied the Constitutional Office of High Court Judge retire, there should not be any discrimination regarding the fixation of their pension, the Supreme Court of India held on Monday.
“Irrespective of the source from where the Judges are drawn (from among district judges or from among lawyers), they must be paid the same pension just as they have been paid same salaries and allowances and perks as serving Judges,” said a three-judge Bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and N.V. Ramana while allowing a batch of petitions filed by retired judges of various High Courts as well as by the association of the retired judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts, elevated from the Bar quota.
The main question consideration, Bench observed, is whether High Court Judges, who are appointed from the Bar under Article 217(2)(b) of the Constitution of India, on retirement are entitled for an addition of 10 years to their service for the purposes of their pension.
The Bench said that only practicing lawyers who have attained eminence are invited to accept Judgeship of the High Court.
“Because of the status of the office of High Court Judge, the responsibilities and duties attached to the office, hardly any advocate of distinction declines the offer. Though it may be a great financial sacrifice to a successful lawyer to accept Judgeship, it is the desire to serve the society and the high prestige attached to the office and the respect the office commands that propel a successful lawyer to accept Judgeship.”
The bench held that fixation of higher pension to the Judges drawn from the Subordinate Judiciary who had served for shorter period in contradistinction to Judges drawn from the Bar who had served for longer period with less pension was highly discriminatory and breach of Article 14 of the Constitution. The classification itself is unreasonable without any legally acceptable nexus with the object sought to be achieved. One rank one pension must be the norm in respect of a Constitutional Office” the Bench said.
“Only practicing Advocates who have attained eminence are invited to accept Judgeship of the High Court. Because of the status of the office of High Court Judge, the responsibilities and duties attached to the office, hardly any advocate of distinction declines the offer. Though it may be a great financial sacrifice to a successful lawyer to accept Judgeship, it is the desire to serve the society and the high prestige attached to the office and the respect the office commands that propel a successful lawyer to accept Judgeship. 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-à-vis the experience gained by a judicial officer.”
The Bench while directing the government to amend the rules with effect from 2004 said the meager pension for Judges drawn from the Bar and served for less than 12 years on the Bench adversely affects the image of the Judiciary. “When pensions are meager because of the shorter service, lawyers who attain distinction in the profession may not, because of this anomaly, accept the office of Judgeship. When capable lawyers do not show inclination towards Judgeship, the quality of justice declines.”
The Bench hoped and trusted that the states, who have not so far framed the scheme for Judges, will formulate it, depending on the local conditions, for the benefit of the retired Chief Justices and retired Judges of the respective High Courts as early as possible, preferably within a period of six months.