Judiciary is considered as a powerful and independent organ of the government of India. It is necessary that such organ should be strengthened by providing proper facilities. Judicial salaries in India have been so parsimonious over the past decades that they threaten to undermine the standing, competency, and independence of the higher judiciary. In 2016, the then Chief Justice of India T S Thakur had written to the government seeking a hike in the salaries of Supreme Court and high court judges.
As a result of this, a bill to hike the salaries of the Supreme Court judges and the 24 High Courts by over two folds of the Supreme Court judges and the 24 High Courts by over two folds was introduced in the parliament. This bill was piloted by Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. The Union Cabinet approved this draft on 22nd November 2017. The High Court and Supreme Court (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Bill, 2017 introduced to hike the salaries of SC and HC judges, was approved by the President of India and it is a milestone in building a stronger, competent and independent judiciary.
This bill was introduced in the Lower House of the parliament (Lok Sabha) on 21st December 2017. The High Court and Supreme Court (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Bill, 2017 is in line with the recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission for officers of all-India services. This bill benefits the present 25 judges of the Supreme Court, 682 judges of the 24 High Courts and 2,500 retired judges.
The High Court and Supreme Court (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Bill, 2017 was passed by the Lok Sabha on 4th January 2018 and was passed in Rajya Sabha (Upper House) during the Budget Session of the parliament. The bill received President’s nod on 30th January 2018. After passing in both the houses of parliament, this bill has come into force retrospectively from 1st January 2016.
Frozen Judicial Salaries
Judicial salaries in India have been parsimonious. When the Constitution was being enacted in 1950, the judges of the Federal Court and the High Courts were consulted by the Constituent Assembly on their salaries. A memorandum drawn up by the judges stressed the need for sufficiently high salaries as “the paramount importance of the securing a fearless functioning of an independent, incorruptible and efficient judiciary.”
Hence, the Constitution fixed the salaries of the Chief Justice of India and other judges of the Supreme Court at Rs. 5,000 and Rs. 4,000 and the salaries of the Chief Justices of the High Court and other judges at Rs. 4,000 and Rs. 3,500. There has not been a considerable hike in the salaries ever since, accordingly to the economy. Low salaries have a direct impact on the efficiency of the higher judiciary, including the disposal of cases.
In 1950, according to the then standard of living these salaries were sufficiently alluring for lawyers in good practice who sought for a judicial career with the prestige of a judge of a High Court and the Supreme Court. For a long time, the salaries stayed unrevised. However, the value of the rupee had fallen and the cost of living had risen. In 1986, the salaries were increased by a Constitutional amendment.
The Chief Justice and other judges of the Supreme Court were to be paid Rs. 10,000 and Rs. 9,000 and the Chief Justices of the High Courts and different judges Rs. 9,000 and Rs. 8,000. In 1998, they were raised to the previous existing salaries.
Before the passing of this bill, the Chief Justice of India used to get a salary of Rs. 1 lakh and other judges of the Supreme Court get Rs. 90,000. The Chief Justices of the High Courts were paid Rs. 90,000 and other judges Rs. 80,000.
Even taking into consideration the perquisites appended to the office of judge, judicial salaries have turned out to be unrewarding and unattractive to lawyers in good practice, leaving aside lawyers in top practice. Earlier, lawyers in India as in the United Kingdom in good practice took judgeship as a vocation and as a matter of honor even though rewards at the Bar were higher.
Today, judicial salaries, apart from becoming unreal with the progression of time, do not stand comparison with the average earnings at the Bar, resulting in fewer and fewer competent lawyers from the Bar taking the judgeship.
“It may be said that we are a poor country and cannot afford to pay high salaries to judges. I would like to record my opinion that only an extremely wealthy country can afford the luxury of an ill-paid judiciary and that the greatest sufferers of an ill-paid judiciary would be the Union and the State Governments because to-day the biggest litigant in India is the State. In my opinion arrears of work cannot be diminished by diluting the quality of the judiciary; the correct remedy is to make a judicial career sufficiently attractive for lawyers of the highest standing.”
Changes Proposed in the Amendment Bill
The High Court and Supreme Court (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Bill, 2017 is on par with those of bureaucrats as per the recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission. Along with the salaries, this bill also revises the rates of house rent allowance and also pension. The Bill has also amended (i) the High Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Act, 1954; and (ii) the Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Act, 1958. These Acts regulate the salaries and conditions of service of the judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Court.
The hike in salaries is as follows:
- The Chief Justice of India will draw a monthly salary of Rs. 2.80 lakh from the previous Rs. 1 lakh.
- Judges of the Supreme Court and the Chief Justices of the 24 High Courts will draw a monthly salary of Rs. 2.50 lakh from the previous Rs. 90,000.
- Judges of High Courts will draw a monthly salary of Rs. 2.25 lakh from the previous Rs. 80,000.
The revised rates of sumptuary allowance which will be effective from 22nd September 2017:
- The Chief Justice of India will get an allowance of Rs. 45,000 from the previous Rs.12,000.
- Judges of the Supreme Court and the Chief Justices of the 24 High Courts will get an allowance of Rs. 34,000 from the previous Rs. 15,000.
- Judges of High Courts will get an allowance of Rs. 27,000 from the previous Rs. 12,000.
The previous two Acts of 1954 and 1958, specify the pension of the Supreme Court and High Court judges based on; (i) if they have previously held a pensionable post under the central or state governments, or (ii) if they have not held any such post. This bill also seeks to revise the pension for judges under these categories.
The maximum pension payable to the judges per annum:
- Maximum pension payable to the Chief Justice of India will be increased to Rs. 16,80,000 from the previous Rs. 6,00,000.
- Maximum pension payable to the judges of the Supreme Court and the Chief Justices of the 24 High Courts will be increased to Rs. 15,00,000 from the previous Rs. 5,40,000.
- Maximum pension payable to the judges of High Courts will be increased to Rs. 13,50,000 from the previous Rs. 4,80,000.
Sir Winston Churchill in his speech while moving a bill for raising salaries of judges in U.K. He said:
“The service rendered by judges demands the highest qualities of learning, training, and character. These qualities are not to be measured in terms of pounds, shillings, and pence according to the quantity of work done. A form of life and conduct far more severe and restricted than that of ordinary people is required from judges and, though unwritten, has been most strictly observed.
They are at once privileged and restricted. They have to present a continuous aspect of dignity and conduct. The Bench must be the dominant attraction to the legal profession, yet it rather hangs in the balance now, and heavily will our society pay if it cannot command the finest characters and the best legal brains which we can produce.”
The government finally realized that even the legal profession is at stake and it should consider new measures for the functioning of an independent, incorruptible and efficient judiciary. The government provided a proper push to that through this Act. The great standing which our higher judiciary with its enormous power commands in India and the rest of the world is in serious danger of being undermined if prompt steps are not taken to raise judicial salaries to draw talent to the judiciary. This bill might play a major role in strengthening the judiciary by drawing talent as it provides a great career opportunity.
– Medha P M
Content Writer @ Legal Bites