The government's clash with the opposition over appointing retired judges in tribunals seems to have created hurdles for its plan to raise the retirement age of around 900 judges across 21 high courts in the country.The bill, which would require a constitutional amendment, has been pending in the Lok Sabha for more than two years now. Though the matter was debated in Lok Sabha last December, the government had to keep it in abeyance because it did not have the two-thirds majority required to get it passed.
The BJP's demand to introduce a two-year cooling-off period before appointing retired judges to various tribunals has been supported by top jurists and other opposition parties, making it clear that they will not support the bill until the demand is accepted.
Leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha and former law minister Arun Jaitley, who has consistently maintained that post-retirement activities of judges need to be regulated, publicly slammed the practice of the government appointing judges in various tribunals immediately after their retirement.
"This clamour for post-retirement jobs is adversely affecting the impartiality of the judiciary," Jaitley said last week. Top jurists, including former Chief Justices of India JS Verma and MN Venkatachalliah, have supported Jaitley's stand.
Official data show that 60 Supreme Court judges, including 10 Chief Justices, have retired since 2000. Of them, 47 got post-retirement assignments either from the Centre or from various state governments.
Law minister Salman Khurshid has rejected the demand. "Overall, the number of retired judges is quite high and very few of them have been given such assignments. I am not ready to believe that such learned men would sell themselves just to get such an appointment," he said.
The completely divergent views of the government and the opposition provide little hope of the middle ground required to build a consensus to get the bill passed.