The question of people who held influential positions in their formal careers accepting plum post-retirement jobs is one mired in questions of personal values and public ethics, especially if it involves judges. The Supreme Court weighed in on this question this week, turning down a public interest litigation pressing for a mandatory cooling-off period of two years for judges of constitutional courts after they demit office, and leaving it to the Centre to bring a law. For decades, retired judges have been routinely appointed to tribunals and some legal and quasi-legal bodies – in fact, the functioning of these important institutions depends on the presence of a narrow subset of men and women who have adequate experience in handling and deciding on tricky and niche aspects of the law. Yet, any appointment with political connotations – such as a governorship or a House seat – where the discretion of the executive is required, creates a disquieting perception because a large chunk of the docket of a judge are cases either brought by the government or against it. It is in this category of appointments that more deliberation and propriety are required.
Unfortunately, political systems in India have not set a stellar precedent over the decades. The top court may be right in urging individuals to exercise better sense but until the political system understands that such appointments can undermine public faith, and that it may be better to enforce a mandatory cooling-off period, little is likely to change.