Seeking to set new benchmarks, judges of the higher judiciary have demanded monthly salaries of Rs 300,000 and above for themselves.
A resolution demanding what they termed "respectable salary" to the tune of ten times and more what the Supreme Court and high court judges presently get was passed at the ongoing two-day annual judges' meet here.
The demand comes close on the heels of the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations, which has proposed a salary of Rs 300,000 for the chairpersons of various regulatory authorities.
These regulatory agencies include Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC), Competition Commission of India (CCI) and Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority.
Citing the 6th Pay Commission recommendation, the agenda note for judges' meet said: "For future appointments of chairpersons of various regulatory authorities like SEBI, TRAI, CERC, CCI and IRDA, the commission has recommended consolidated salary of up to Rs 300,000 per month."
The agenda note contended that "judges of the apex court and the high courts cannot be paid less than chairpersons of the regulatory bodies, whose orders are challenged before them (judges) everyday."
Even otherwise, the Supreme Court and high court judges "are professionally qualified and highly experienced persons, who happen to be experts in the field of law and sacrifice their lucrative practice at Bar to serve the country as judge," the note asserted.
Expressing discontent over the present wages of justice, the note said: "It cannot be denied that salaries of judges have not been increased realistically keeping in view the arduous nature of their work, status and responsibility and compensation for sacrificing their lucrative legal profession, besides ignoring their family responsibilities."
Taking note of the fact that the 6th Pay Commission's recommendations are already under government's consideration, the judges made a strong pitch for an early and expeditious amendment in the separate law that determines their salary and working conditions.
"If the salaries and allowances of the judges of the Supreme Court and high courts are not revised simultaneously with the revision of the salary and allowances of government servants, that may result in a situation where the basic salary of a judge may become lower than that of his subordinate, and would cause embarrassment to judges," the agenda note apprehended.
The judges also did not like the prospect of their revised salaries falling in the range of what the country's and states' top bureaucrats like Cabinet Secretary and Chief secretary would get as per the 6th pay panel proposals.
The commission has recommended a fixed salary of Rs 80,000 for secretaries and equivalent officers and Rs 90,000 for Cabinet Secretary and equivalent officers.
"Efforts have always been made to link the salary of judges of superior judiciary with executives in the government, though, the Apex Court has repeatedly said that judges, being constitutional functionaries, cannot be compared with civil servants," the note pointed out.
The judges' salary at present falls in the range of what top bureaucrats of the country and the states get.
The agenda note recalled the pre-independence history, when judges used to get salaries higher than those given to top government officers in the government.
"Before commencement of the constitution, there was marked difference between the salaries of judges and those of the executives in the government. When Federal Court was constituted under government of India Act, 1935, the salary of Chief Justice was fixed at Rs 7,000 per month and that of other judges at Rs 5,500 per month," the agenda note recalled.
"The First Pay Commission of 1947 recommended salaries of Rs 3,000 per month to the Secretaries to government of India. The salary of high court judges at that time was Rs 3,500 per month," the note said adding that "The salaries of judges were scaled down because the constitution fixed salaries of president and governors at Rs 10,000 per month and Rs 5,500 per month respectively," the note said.
"Subsequently, the salary of secretary to government of India was revised to Rs 3,500 per month from September 1965 without undertaking any revision of the salary of high court judges. Since then, salaries of high court judges have been equated with that of secretary to government of India, obliterating the original difference among their salaries," the note said.
The note pointed out that "the British Parliament on the other hand had no difficulty in giving a salary of 10,000 pounds to the Lord Chancellor, when the salary of Prime Minister was 5,000 pounds per month," the note said, countering the argument for maintaining parity in the salary structure of judges with those of civil servants.