Servants and sprawling Lutyens’ bungalows at Government expense for life, vacations for relatives in Government accommodation – these are just some entitlements which the higher judiciary claims as its right. And then the same judiciary regularly hands out sermons to all and sundry on transparency, accountability and probity in public life.
The Supreme Court recently passed a decision to appoint one domestic help for life for retired judges of the Court, and then to absorb the help in the Court’s regular staff after a period of ten years – this was widely criticised by commentators on social media.
Terrible news , how can judges decide their own salaries and perks after appointing themselves? It is illegal https://t.co/sghGVQO9H9
— Mohandas Pai (@TVMohandasPai) December 3, 2016
In another development, it is reported that several top-level positions in nearly two dozen law commissions and tribunals have few takers among retired judges due to unavailability of ‘entitled accommodation’ – Type 7 or Type 8 bungalows in Lutyens’ Delhi comprising four or five bedrooms, servant quarters, lawns and garage.
Unsurprisingly, Chief Justice TS Thakur has thrown his weight with the retired judges, saying that they “are not being provided with a dignified place to live.”
The CJI argued if a retired judge of the Supreme Court is asked to take up an assignment after retirement for half the salary he was earlier getting, “and you don’t give him a decent place to live in, why should he bother?” adding that a judge can as well go to a “flat of his choice and do some arbitration and consultation work which is more lucrative“.
Union Law Ministry says it is not possible to provide every retired judge with bungalows of the same size as that of sitting judges, due to severe shortage. 76 out of 625 top category bungalows in Lutyens’ Delhi are allocated to the ‘serving judges pool’, while tribunal/commission heads get around 18 bungalows from the ‘general pool’. But there are about six dozen tribunals and commissions and they require about 220-222 houses!
The malaise of grabbing a bungalow in Lutyens’ Delhi and hanging on for as long as possible is widespread, and it cuts across all arms of Government – politicians, ministers, bureaucrats and judiciary. As HinduPost has reported earlier, the number of houses vacated in Lutyens Bungalow Zone (LBZ) has increased three times under the Modi government. Shockingly, 1,207 houses are still under unauthorized occupation in Delhi – of which 27 are with journalists. The Lutyens’ Zone needs to be fully redeveloped and housing should be made available in the form of apartments in modern high-rises.
Judiciary is equally susceptible to the other disease which affects public life in Bharat – the abuse and misuse of official machinery for personal enjoyment. A twitter user has revealed this letter from a court official in Punjab ordering that an entire PWD (Public Works Department) Rest House in Hoshiarpur, Punjab be reserved for the personal visit of relatives of Justice Surya Kant of Punjab & Haryana High Court.
It is high time that the judiciary looks at itself in the mirror – the very ills that it routinely finds in others, afflict it as well. Our judiciary may view itself as the last line of defense of the republic, but the truth is that they are part of the problem. And unlike bureaucrats who are accountable to politicians, and politicians who are accountable to citizens, the judiciary is accountable to none.
Judicial reform is the need of the hour, and an open & transparent judicial appointment process is the first step in that direction.
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