The Supreme Court’s recent 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 is unfortunate. Last month, under the ‘Rules for providing Domestic Help to Former Chief Justices of India and Former Judges of the Supreme Court’, it was decided that the domestic help shall have a salary payable to a Class-IV employee of the Supreme Court in the grade of a peon—that is, not only will the domestic help get paid, as all government employees at the lower level, 2-3 times the market salary, there will be dearness allowances to adjust for inflation and yearly increments; presumably, when there is a Pay Commission award and salaries get bumped up across the board, this will apply to the domestic help as well. Worse, on completion of 10 years of service, the domestic help is to be considered for absorption into the Supreme Court’s rolls after a Committee of Judges assesses his/her suitability—you would think sitting judges have more pressing things to do than deciding whether a domestic servant meets the criterion of being employed as a Supreme Court peon.
Though, as the Shetty committee observed in 1996, seeing ‘judicial officers standing in queue to pay electricity or water bills (is) a pathetic scene, if not embarrassing’, surely this would apply to anyone who has held office, not just judges? Apart from the fact that paying utility bills is easily done online nowadays, paying for domestic help has to be done for from whatever pensions one earns—in the case of judges, as for all government employees, pension payments are not only generous, they are linked to the salaries of existing staffers, as a result of which, there is a significant revision with every Pay Commission. Providing a domestic servant for life, in itself, may not add up to much for the Supreme Court, but it will quickly spread—the J&K High Court did this even before the Supreme Court—not just to other courts, but to even bureaucrats and MPs. And while it has been done for domestic servants right now, it could be extended to other areas as well. No one can doubt the services the judges render to the country, but a relaxation for them can soon turn into a headache for the government as others clamour for similar treatment. If the government chooses to hike salaries for the top-end employees—that would include judges—that is a good idea, but patchwork solutions of the sort being done are best avoided.