NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court today ruled that judicial officers, who have rendered their services as fast track court judges, were entitled to pensionery and retiral benefits.
The top court, said the Fast Track Court Scheme was brought in to deal with the exigency of huge pendency of cases and the judicial officers in Jharkhand were appointed to the such courts who continued to work for almost a decade.
A bench of Justices J Chelameswar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul said "the need to set up Fast Track courts arose on account of delays in the judicial process, targeting certain priority areas for quicker adjudication".
Had there been adequate cadre strength of judicial officers, there would have been no need to set up these Fast Track courts, it said.
"We are, thus, unhesitatingly and unequivocally of the view that all the appellants and Judicial Officers identically situated are entitled to the benefit of the period of service rendered as Fast Track court Judges, to be counted for their length of service in determination of their pension and retiral benefits," the bench said.
The first preference for appointment as judges of fast track courts is given to ad hoc promotions from amongst the eligible judicial officers, while the second preference was given to retired judges who had good service records.
The third preference envisaged was to the members of the Bar for direct appointment to these courts.
Dealing with the case, the top court said that judicial officers in Jharkhand, who were appointed to the fast track courts after the state was carved out of Bihar on November 25, 2000, did not get the job "at the whims and fancy of any person, but were next in line on the merit list of a judicial recruitment process.
"It said these judges have rendered their services over a period of nine years and have performed their role as Judges satisfactorily, otherwise there would have been no occasion for their appointment to the regular cadre strength.
"We believe that it is a matter of great regret that these appellants (judicial officers) who have performed the functions of a Judge to the satisfaction of the competent authorities should be deprived of their pension and retiral benefits for this period of service," it said and denying them the same would be "unjust and unfair".
The judicial officers had initially joined the service as Fast Track Judges, which was was challenged by certain members of the lower judiciary.
Their appointment was eventually upheld by the top court and their services regularised as district judges.
However, after the appointment, they were denied permission to withdraw salary under their earlier General Provident Fund by stating that their earlier services as Fast Track Judges will not be considered.
The judicial officers were also denied other benefits like leave encashment and travel allowances.
They challenged the denial of benefits in the Jharkhand High Court which ruled against them, following which they challenged the order in apex court.