SC order hits cash-strapped Govt.

Chennai Nov. 9 . The cash-strapped Tamil Nadu Government faces a fresh financial worry now — it has to mobilise Rs. 2,100 crores to hike salaries for the suboridinate judiciary and appoint at least 2,000 new judicial officers in keeping with a Supreme Court order.

With little hope of its mopping up the mind-boggling sum and the court refusing to review the order, the Government has now desperately petitioned the Centre for a bailout. "If we increase the salaries of the judicial officers as per the Supreme Court order, we will sink. In fact, most of the States will not be able to bear the burden," insists a top government source.

The Government should have given the pay hike from July this year, but wracked by the financial crisis, it along with other States, filed a review petition. But with the Supreme Court dismissing the petitions, the State has turned to the Centre.

At the recent conferences of Finance Ministers and Chief Ministers, the State appealed to the Centre that it file a review petition before the court. If it was dismissed, the Centre should bring in legislation overruling the court order, Tamil Nadu urged. "The Centre has agreed to file a review petition soon. And we are pinning our hopes on it," said a senior official.

The court, in its order this March, asked all State Governments to increase the pay of the judicial officers — from munsifs to district judges — with effect from July 1996 — as recommended by the Shetty Commission. In effect, it wanted the States to raise the salaries of district judges nearly on a par with the Chief Secretary.

For Tamil Nadu, struggling to pay salaries for its jumbo 12.45 lakh staff, the increase in the salaries for judicial officers meant an additional annual burden of Rs. 900 crores.

Not just that. The court asked the States to provide official accommodation or a house rent allowance to all judicial officers. Besides, it directed them to bear 50 per cent of electricity and water charges — with a ceiling of course — for the residences of the judicial officers.

But what dealt a major blow to the States was the court fiat of increasing the strength of the subordinate judiciary from 10 to 50 judicial officers per one million population. In effect, Tamil Nadu, which has 700 judicial officers, would have to recruit another 2,000 judges in the next five years. In all, it would involve a non-recurring expenditure of Rs. 1,100 crores annually.

Clearly, the fresh burden has put the financial-crisis hit State in a fix. It cannot afford to pay the increased salaries. Nor, can it antagonise the judiciary.

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