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Judges Pay hike – Finance Ministry’s stand is at variance

The plan of the higher judiciary for a three-fold-plus hike in salaries of members of the higher judiciary has not found favour with the Union Finance Ministry.

According to sources in the Finance Ministry, it has recommended a cut in the salary structure proposed by a three-judge committee constituted by the Chief Justice of India (CJI).

Since the Finance Ministry’s stand is at variance with recommendations of the Union Law Ministry, the matter is likely to be taken up by the Union Cabinet in its meeting on Thursday to resolve the issue.

Once the Cabinet takes a call on the issue, a Bill would be introduced in Parliament as salaries of higher judiciary are governed by an Act of Parliament. The ‘Indian Express’ had first published the report about the demand by the judiciary for a three-fold-plus hike in salaries.

The committee, which comprised Justices Ashok Bhan (now retired) and Altamas Kabir of the Supreme Court and Madras High Court Chief Justice (CJ) A P Shah, had proposed that the CJI’s monthly salary be raised from the present Rs 33,000 to Rs 1.10 lakh while that of his brother-judges and CJs of High Courts be hiked to Rs 1 lakh from the present 30,000.

As per the proposal, sitting judges of various High Courts were to receive Rs 90,000 per month as against Rs 26,000 that they get now.

Sources said the proposal, if accepted, would have placed the CJI at par with Governors while SC judges and HC CJs would have been placed at par with the Cabinet Secretary.

As for the sitting judges of various HCs, the Finance Ministry’s proposal wants to place them in the same category as secretary-level officers of the Government of India.

The three-judge committee had also recommended a sharp hike in post-retirement benefits of judges. It has recommended that the CJI receive a consolidated salary of Rs 1 lakh per month, which is still more than what the Cabinet Secretary is to receive following the implementation of the sixth pay panel report.

The ministry has suggested that the salaries of the SC judges and HC CJs be also pared down to bring them at par with what the Cabinet Secretary of the Government of India is entitled to under the Sixth Pay Commission. Similarly, the salary of a sitting judge of the HC has also been recommended to be cut to bring it down to Rs 80,000 per month.

On the issue of sumptuary allowance, while the judges’ panel had recommended a one-third hike, the ministry wants status quo. In case of furnishing allowances, while judges had sought a three-fold hike, the Finance Ministry has recommended only a two-fold hike.

With regard to pensionary benefits, while the judges’ panel wanted 50 per cent of the last salary drawn plus dearness allowance (DA), the Finance Ministry has advised that the length of service be taken into consideration while deciding the pension, something that the judges’ committee did not want. The ministry has also sought a limit of Rs 6 lakh per annum pension plus DA for CJI, while the limit is Rs 5.4 lakh per annum for SC judges and HC CJs and Rs 4.8 lakh for HC judges.

Since the revised pay structure would be applicable from January 1, 2006 and effective from September 1, 2008, the Law Ministry has estimated an additional expenditure of Rs 46 crore, which includes Rs 4 crore recurring expenditure per annum and Rs 42 crore as arrears. The judges’ panel had said 40 per cent of the arrears be paid in the current year while the remaining 60 per cent be paid the next year.

Source : The Indian Express (20-11-08)