The Kerala High Court has put on hold a state government order renaming as 'special allowance' the special pay that was being given to judicial officers, observing that it was an attempt to deny the monetary benefit to them and that prima facie it "cannot be sustained".

The interim order by Justice V G Arun was passed on a plea by the Kerala Judicial Officers Association which has sought quashing of the state government's 2022 decision by which the special pay was renamed as special allowance.

The Court while putting on hold the operation of the government's 2022 decision, also issued notice to it seeking its stand on the association's plea

Senior advocate Jaju Babu, who represented the association, told the Court that the description of the special pay as special allowance was not a drafting mistake but a "deliberate mischief" as based on the latest government order, "the special pay drawn by judicial officers of the District Judiciary as part of their pay will be considerably reduced."

The concept of special pay was evolved on the basis of the recommendations by the 1st National Judicial Commission, also known as Shetty Commission, which had said that judicial officers who were also having considerable administrative work should be provided this monetary benefit, the association has said in its plea.

The recommendation was accepted by the Supreme Court and it asked the High Courts to take a decision on payment of special pay and the Kerala High Court in 2006 forwarded to the state government a proposal to sanction 'special pay', the petition has said.

The state government sanctioned special pay to serving judicial officers entrusted with administrative work but described it as 'special allowance', it has said.

Subsequently, the benefit was also extended to judicial officers working on deputation based on a direction from the Supreme Court.

Thereafter, the Apex Court also directed the renaming of the special allowance as 'special pay' as recommended by the Shetty Commission report and the same was complied with by the state government in 2010, the plea has said.

However, the state said that the special pay will not be counted for fixation of pay and pensionary benefits and this decision was set aside by the Kerala High Court which in 2019 said that 'special pay' should be counted as part of retirement benefits, the plea has further said.

The state's appeal against the 2019 direction was rejected by the high court, the association said and added that the 2022 decision of the government to rename the special pay as special allowance was in contempt of the orders and judgments of the Kerala High Court and the Supreme Court.

"The description of special pay recommended by the Shetty Commission and approved by this Court as well as the Supreme Court and implemented by the government as special allowance was not a drafting mistake but a deliberate mischief," the petition has claimed.

Putting on hold the 2022 government order, Justice Arun observed that "undeterred by the observations" of the high court and "unmindful of its own order (of 2010) and in an apparent attempt to deny the benefit of special pay to the judicial officers, the government has now come out with the order (of 2022), renaming special pay as special allowance".

"I am prima facie convinced that the order (of 2022) cannot be sustained. Hence, the first respondent is directed to keep the operation and implementation of the order in abeyance until further orders," the judge said.

Click here to read/download Order

With PTI inputs