The Supreme Court has held that a High Court judge who retired as an Acting Chief Justice of a High Court is not entitled to the pensionary benefits including the ceiling in the pension which is available to a retired Chief Justice.
However, for the service rendered as an Acting Chief Justice, he is required to be considered as a Chief Justice and for that period his pension is required to be computed as if he has rendered service as Chief Justice, the bench comprising Justice Arun Mishra, Justice MR Shah and Justice BR Gavai held while dismissing the writ petition filed by former High Court judge Justice K. Sreedhar Rao.
Justice Rao had served as Acting Chief Justice of Gauhati High Court for 14 months and had retired as so on 20.10.2015. After he retired, the Department of Law & Justice informed that Justice Rao is not entitled to the higher pension ceiling of Rs.5,40,000- being the pension available to a Chief Justice. Thereafter, the judge moved the Apex Court seeking a declaration that he is entitled to pensionary benefit available to a Chief Justice.
Referring to the relevant statutory provisions, the bench observed that for the limited purpose for computation of the salary that Acting Chief Justice is treated as Chief Justice. The bench said:
"So long as a Judge who is performing his duties as an Acting Chief Justice appointed under Article 223 of the Constitution, shall be entitled to the salary and other perks as that of the Chief Justice. Meaning thereby, what is contemplated by the aforesaid provisions is only payment of salary during the tenure while functioning as Acting Chief Justice as that of a Chief Justice. Even by virtue of the provisions of the 1954 Act, it is for the limited purpose for computation of the salary that Acting Chief Justice is treated as Chief Justice."
The bench added that there is a clear distinction between a Judge appointed as an Acting Chief Justice under Article 223 of the Constitution of India and a Chief Justice appointed under Article 217 of the Constitution. It said:
A Judge of the High Court is appointed as an Acting Chief Justice under Article 223 of the Constitution for the purposes of the duties of the Chief Justice and the office of the Chief Justice remains vacant. In a case where the office of the Chief Justice of the High Court is vacant, the duties of the office of the Chief Justice will be performed by any other Judge as Acting Chief Justice. Therefore, only for the limited purpose of salary, such an Acting Chief Justice is treated at par with the Chief Justice and not for any other purpose, more particularly the pension."
While dismissing Justice Rao's plea the bench held that only that period of service rendered by him as an Acting Chief Justice, i.e., 14 months service as an Acting Chief Justice is required to be considered as service rendered as a Chief Justice for the purpose of computation of pension.
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