How a retired SC judge can earn more in 2 hours than a sitting judge does in an entire month

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(This story originally appeared in on Jul 11, 2021)

If there is a travesty about the principle of equal work, equal pay, one need not turn to the urban-hinterland disparity as a comparison of compensation paid to a Supreme Court judge for hearing and deciding a case and to a senior advocate for arguing it brings out the wide chasm.

An SC judge gets a salary of Rs 2.5 lakh a month, which works out to approximately Rs 8,333 per day, during which he hears arguments from lawyers on an average in 40 cases. This translates to Rs 208 per case, be it a simple appeal, a PIL on Covid issues, or one involving intricate questions of law.

In contrast, a newly designated senior advocate commands a price of Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5 lakh for arguing a case. The services of a seasoned advocate like A M Singhvi, Kapil Sibal, Mukul Rohatgi or Harish Salve may find the litigant’s bank balance lighter by Rs 10 lakh-20 lakh per hearing. So an SC judge, who hears and decides a case, gets Rs 208 per day per case while seasoned senior advocates, who cannot guarantee a result in a case, are paid in lakhs of rupees per day per case.

Well, none of the senior advocates argue in 40 cases a day, for which an SC judge prepares every evening to be ready to listen to the legal arguments the next day.

This is the reason why many SC judges look forward to their retirement, which allows them to offer legal expertise as arbitrators, or, for that matter, provide valued opinion to corporations and multinationals on legal issues in their operations in India, or in disputes arising from contracts, agreements and MoUs.

A retired SC judge earns between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 5 lakh for a two-hour sitting as an arbitrator and there are some who do three sittings every day to match the earnings of a reasonably successful senior advocate. A retired Chief Justice of India commands a little more than a retired SC judge while performing the duty of an arbitrator.

In rendering an opinion, a retired SC judge gets between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 10 lakh while each opinion of a retired CJI fetches her/him Rs 10-20 lakh. A retired CJI confided to TOI: “I do three to four opinions a month and earn between Rs 30-50 lakh, unthinkable money for a sitting judge. I indulge in a lot of charity. And yet, I am left with an amount which is more than the provident fund money I got on retirement after rendering services for more than two decades as a judge of constitutional courts.”

The only difference between a senior advocate and an SC judge, in terms of compensation, is the sprawling Lutyens’ Zone bungalow and free services of assistants that s/he is entitled to.

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