The Supreme Court while noting that more than 17 years have passed since the judicial officers received a pay revision, directed all states and the union territories to clear salary arrears and other dues to district judicial officers across the country in compliance with the recommendations of the Second National Judicial Pay Commission (SNJPC).

“…In the case of payment of arrears of pay, this Court had by Orders dated July 27, 2022 and January 18, 2023 already directed that all arrears of pay be cleared by June 30, 2023. In this regard, it is directed that compliance affidavits must be filed by all States and Union Territories by July 30, 2023 that the arrears of pay have been positively credited into the accounts of the concerned officers”, a bench of CJI D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice V Ramasubramanian and Justice P.S. Narasimha observed in the judgment.

"It is thus directed that the High Courts and the competent authorities, wherever applicable, bring the rules in conformity with the recommendations accepted by this Court above within a period of 3 months. Compliance affidavits be placed on record by the High Courts, the States and the Union within four months”, the judgment further read.

The Amicus Curiae, K Parameshwar while placing the recommendations submitted that the increase in pay of the High Court judges must equally reflect in the increase of pay of judicial officers of the District Judiciary.

Senior Advocate V Giri, also supported the contentions and further reiterated the need for an urgent implementation of the Report of the SNJPC, especially in respect of pension to be paid to retired officers.

Senior Advocate Gourab Banerji appearing for the petitioners, the All India Judges Association relied on KPTCL v. CP Mundinamani (2023) SCC Online SC 401 to defend the recommendation of the Commission on the accrual of last increment for the purposes of pension. Further that the age of retirement of district judges is lower than that of High Court and Supreme Court judges and therefore, they must be entitled to retiral benefits at a younger age.

However, in the counter-argument ASGI KM Nataraj, appearing for the State of Uttar Pradesh submitted that:

- the multiplier of 2.81 cannot be applied to the District Judiciary across the cadres.

- the States do not have sufficient financial resources to meet the increase in pay as suggested by the SNJPC.

- since the applicable Rules in their State do not provide for such accrual (pensions) for Government Employees, the same cannot be given to judicial officers.

-while opposing the grant of retirement gratuity, State Rules, which are prevalent, provide for a uniform rate across cadres and services in the State.

- minimum eligibility for Family Pension must be less than Rs. 30,000, as suggested by the Commission.

The bench after considering the averments made by the parties then placed reliance on the 5 carved-out principles by the Amicus curiae and observed:

I. Uniformity in Designations and Service Conditions

Quoting All India Judges Association (II) v. Union of India (1993) 4 SCC 288, which said, “… Secondly, the judiciary in this country is a unified institution judicially though not administratively. Hence uniform designations and hierarchy, with uniform service conditions are unavoidable necessary consequences”, the court underlined the necessity for bringing uniformity in the judicial system for effective functioning.

II. Separation of Powers and Comparison with Political Executive

Recognizing the necessity of the separaiton of power in terms of finances, the court noted that allowing the Executive to decide the pay of the judiciary may lead to unintended consequences. The Court also noted, “Apart from this, Judicial Officers have been working without a pay revision for nearly 15 years”.

“…After going through the affidavits of the States and the Union, this Court on July 27, 2022 found that in contrast to the 7th Central Pay Commission, which was implemented from January 1, 2016, judicial officers have not received any similar benefit. Thus, the Court held that ‘there is a need to at least implement the revised pay structure immediately so as to alleviate the sufferings of the judicial officers’”, the bench referring to its earlier order further observed in the judgment.

III. Independence of the District Judiciary is Part of the Basic Structure

While noting that the earlier references to independence of judiciary being a part of the basic structure of the Constitution was used in a limited sense, whereby only the Supreme Court and High Courts were covered, the importance of the District Judiciary to be thus included in the ambit was also realized. The Court even appreciated the fact that in a day, the District Judiciary handled nearly 11.3 lakh cases, as was put forth by the Amicus Curiae.

Therefore the bench opined, “The independence of the District Judiciary must also be equally a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. Without impartial and independent judges in the District Judiciary, Justice, a preambular goal would remain illusory. The District Judiciary is, in most cases, also the Court which is most accessible to the litigant”.

IV. Judicial Independence and Access to Justice Ensures Implementation of Part III of the Constitution

The bench further observed that for most litigants the only physically accessible institution for accessing justice is the District Judiciary.

“….One may go to the extent to state that the rights of “access to justice” and “fair trial” cannot be exercised by an individual without an independent judiciary. Further, without fair and speedy trial, the remaining rights, including fundamental and constitutional rights will not be enforced in a manner known to law. If these instrumental rights themselves are hindered, then all other rights within the Constitution would not be enforceable”, the judgment read.

V. Equivalence of Judicial Functions of District Judiciary and Higher Judiciary

In the judgment, it observed, that salaries for judges of the High Court are the same across the country by virtue of the High Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Act, 1954. Furthermore that as per the hierarchy of the unified judicial system a Judge of the High Court is placed above a District Judge, therefore also placed above in terms of salary. Therefore, in ordinary sense, it would mean that any increase in the salary of the judges of the High Court must reflect in the same proportion to the judges in the District Judiciary.

The revised rates of pension, approved by the court, shall be payable from July 01, 2023.

In the directions to the State and the Union Territories, it was noted in the judgment that, "For the payment of arrears of pension, additional pension, gratuity and other retiral benefits as well, following the orders dated July 27, 2022 and January 18, 2023, it is directed that 25% will be paid by August 31, 2023, another 25% by October 31, 2023, and the remaining 50% by December 31, 2023”.

It is interesting to note that on the State’s submission on the alleged financial paucity, the court observed, This Court by Order dated April 5, 2023 dismissed the review petitions (filed by the Union) and found that the financial implications cannot be considered as excessive in view of the information given by the SNJPC. Still, the States and the Union have raised this objection after its express rejection twice over. The rejection of their objection is also reiterated. Judicial Officers cannot be left in the lurch for prolonged periods of time without a revision of pay on an alleged paucity of financial resources”.

The SNJPC submitted its final report to the Supreme Court on January 29, 2020.

Cause Title: All India Judges Association v. Union of India & Ors.