DATELINE: The recent appointments of two retired and retiring Supreme Court judges have caught public attention and have become the subject of much discussion. Without going into the merits of the issue based on legal judgments, let me try, by delving into my personal experience as a former bureaucrat, to take a dispassionate, 360-degree view of the issue of employment after retirement.

I always have believed that post-retirement employment is nothing more than sinecures granted by grateful governments to fawning employees, as a reward for past ‘good service’ rendered – with the fervent hope of more such ‘good services’ in future. Post-retirement jobs are always unethical, especially when bestowed in the ethos prevalent in our country today – of appointments based not on merit but extraneous considerations.

It is reprehensible for a bureaucrat to accept a job in the government after superannuation. But the majority of my fellows thinks otherwise – the reason why no one wants to ever retire if he can help it, much as no one wants to die even if they wish to go to heaven!

That in short is the reason why we witness the perfervid jostling and lobbying as retirement approaches. This is fairly well known. Retiring officials resent nothing more than vanishing into the woodwork. A lot of effort goes into preventing it, and for the incumbent these are indeed hard, uncertain days. Part of the mind and body is aflutter like a bee buzzing about flowers, while the other half pretends to do justice to the assigned job.

It takes nothing extraordinary to gain such a sinecure; a little sleight of hand and nothing more. One has witnessed with considerable despair how even the honest and upright turn overnight into the intellectually dishonest. I call it intellectual dishonesty because it lies in the interstices of decision making, and agreeing to the most outrageous proposals, to ensure oneself another five-year extension of power, perks and visibility.

Top honchos crave the moon: Governorship or Ambassadorship. But there are only a few of these on offer, and it is more realistic to pursue such posts as membership of the various permanent Commissions of the Union or State governments: the Election Commission, or the Administrative Tribunals, both Central and State. These are decent enough at prolonging longevity till age 65, especially after all the hard yards of lobbying.

The Right to Information Act and other benign regulatory bodies too have helped spawn various outposts, not to forget the time-worn chairmanship or membership of Union and State Public Service Commissions.

For all the generosity of the Indian nation-state, it simply can’t re-employ all retirees. That’s the bottom line. It’s a supply-and-demand conundrum with demand far outstripping supply. So competition kicks in, with individuals trying to prove their unmistakable credentials – their ability to cosy up to the powers that be, and prove themselves as knights in shining armour.

Much of the wrongs and ills of government gain bureaucrats’ acquiescence in this period, of looking for mirages in the uncertain arid wasteland of retirement, with only a few oases available to quench the thirst. To increase the number of oases and improve the supply line, more and more posts are proposed and accepted.

Retiring bureaucrats are the ones who craft these proposals and chisel and set them in permanent stone. No one ever asks – why can’t these posts be handled by serving officials? The system, true to form, doesn’t grumble or squeak. This even when graded retirement years were provided: 2 years or 62, whichever is earlier, and five years or 65 whichever is earlier.

Take this template; transplant it to the judicial world – and sculpt it. You’ll see the same repeating itself with uncanny sameness. The age of the second retirement inevitably changes in sync with the incumbent’s first retirement age. The recruitment rules and eligibility too are precision-made. What harm would befall us if serving functionaries took over these posts, rather than eligible retirees?

If this warrants increasing the retirement age of all serving officials to 65 or 70 – uniformly, since there’s little logic for differential retirement ages, so be it. This would have an immediate all-round effect: improvement in the quality of disposal; more devotion to one’s job profile with uncertainty removed; an end to the biased cherry-picking of aspirants and contenders by the government, which is the country’s single largest litigant.

Let judges head forums and tribunals, where judicial wisdom is de rigueur. But let serving judges not be handpicked by the executive. It’s a sad commentary on the convenient arrangement rustled up over the years by this duopoly of executive and judiciary, satisfying either party while impugning a fundamental dictum of democracy: the separation of powers.

Besides the conflict of interests inherent in such arrangements, there’s another aspect that shouldn’t be missed. The executive’s role in post-retirement assignments grants it far greater discretion than on regular ones.

For once it has an upper hand over the constitutional watchdog of democracy, unencumbered by the Supreme Court collegium’s recommendation established in the Three Judges cases; so why wouldn’t governments like to have judges perceived to be in line with their thinking and philosophy? It’s only natural for political entities, the more so given Indian political parties’ tepid regard for the rule of law.

Some may plead it’s easy to tar a judge by imputing bias in his judgments and far from fair. Frankly, it can be argued either way. This is why the judge’s reasoning matters. The judicial cliché that justice must not only be done but be seen to be done, comes in. Why is it that no one questions certain judges’ judgments, while deriding others’?

To stay put atop that unquestioning perch of “judiciousness” calls for a certain abnegation of personal interests. Is it often that a judge declines to accept what’s offered on a platter, lest it’s seen as a favour granted him, mere minutes after his regular retirement, and to a post lying vacant for more than six months?

Nor can Justice Sathasivam’s appointment as Governor be justified by citing Justice K.S. Hegde’s election as Lok Sabha Speaker four years after his resignation, or Justice Hidayatullah’s appointment as Vice President, or M.C Chagla’s ambassadorship in the US after his tenure as Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court. They aren’t comparable; we must see through such whataboutery meant to justify glaring and bizarre aberrations in decisions of the executive.

Sadly, it needs no telling that many recent judgments of the apex court (MCI/Prasad Education Trust; Judge Loya; three judgments in seven months concerning the Master of the Roster, despite the Chief Justice’s inherent conflict of interest in the case, to cite just a few) and the functioning of the collegium in the appointment of judges, or prevarication over Justice K.M. Joseph’s elevation, have done little to fortify public perception of a fair and impartial judiciary.

On the contrary, such acts very justifiably sow the seed of doubt in common people’s perceptions of their fellow humans, whom they see placed on high judicial benches. How do laypersons assess a judge or events surrounding him?

We need to remember that judges too are mere mortals, and not Martians come calling or manna from heaven. Judges and bureaucrats alike must be insulated from the government’s favour.

Postscript: To disabuse the reader’s mind, perhaps a disclosure is apt: I never wished for a post-retirement sinecure, nor did I ever strive for one.

(Sudhanshu Mohanty is a former Controller General of Defence Accounts and also a former Financial Adviser (Defence Services) in the Ministry of Defence who retired on May 31, 2016.He is the author , among other books, of Babudom: Catacombs of Indian Bureaucracy (Rupa, 2005; Babulog: Vignettes of Indian Bureaucrats (Rupa, 2006); & Babuspeak and Other Stories (Rupa, 2008).His last book Anatomy of a Tumour: A Patient's Intimate Dialogue with the Scourge (Hay House) was published in 2013).