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SC rules in favour of permanent commission to women officers

Central government had challenged in Supreme Court Delhi High Court decision to grant permanent commission to women and did not implement the decision in the interim despite there being no stay on it; it now has to implement the policy within 3 months. The benefit will have to be given to all women officers irrespective of the number of years of service.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Feb 18, 2020, 11.25 AM IST
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SC directs permanent commission to women officers in armed forces
SC directs permanent commission to women officers in armed forces
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday ordered the government to grant permanent commission to women officers in the Army’s noncombat support units on par with their male counterparts should they wish to continue with it after completing their short-service commission.

Denial of such an opportunity to women officers, combined with the Army policy of not giving them command posts of Colonel and beyond based on a performance index, lowers their status to that of a jawan or junior commissioned officer, the SC noted.

A woman officer working for 14 years is neither given pension nor retirement benefits, the bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud observed.

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The Delhi High Court had in 2010 ordered the government to grant permanent commission to all short-service commission officers while upholding a policy decision to keep out women from the combat units. The government challenged this ruling in the SC and did not implement the decision in the interim despite there being no stay on it. It now has to implement the policy within three months.

The benefit will have to be given to all women officers irrespective of the number of years of service they might have put in. The ‘no women in combat’ rule was not challenged in the SC.

“Women have been excluded from combat operations. This exclusion — which has not been interfered with in direction (i) above on the ground that it is a matter of policy — is not the subject matter of contest in the present appeals,” it said.

The permanent commission with consequential seniority and pensionary benefits will be restricted to the Army’s non-combat units, including the Regiment of Artillery, Corps of Engineers, Corps of Signals, Army Service Corps, Army Ordinance Corps, Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, AEC, Intelligence Corps, and the JAG (legal) department.

The court flayed the government attitude of dragging its feet on the issue of granting permanent commission to women officers as at odds with its policy of taking steps “to eradicate the divide between men and women officers in as many streams as possible in an incremental manner”.

The government’s salient decision to extend permanent commission to women SSC officers in other corps in the support arms and services recognises that the physiological features of a woman have no significance to her equal entitlements under the Constitution, the bench said.

“If society holds strong beliefs about gender roles — that men are socially dominant, physically powerful and the breadwinners of the family and that women are weak and physically submissive, and primarily caretakers confined to a domestic atmosphere — it is unlikely that there would be a change in mindset,” the SC said.

The time has come for a realisation that women officers in the Army are not adjuncts to a male-dominated establishment whose presence must be “tolerated” within narrow confines, it said. The court noted that women officers had not only played a vital role in the Army but also ironically enough they have even been posted in “combat zones” while not being allowed to join combat units.

There’s an acute shortage of 11,500 officers in the Army, out of which approximately 5,115 officers are deficient in support services in which women officers have been commissioned as per a response to a question raised in the Lok Sabha as on August 16, 2010.

“Despite the deficiency of officers in support services, the Army is letting go of trained women officers due to gender discrimination and not granting permanent commissions to women officers,” the SC said.

The bench also held as “discriminatory” a rule that doesn’t allow a woman officer to be posted in anything else but a staff appointment as contrasted with a command appointment based on an efficiency matrix.

“An absolute bar on women seeking criteria or command appointments would not comport with the guarantee of equality under Article 14 (right to equality),” it said.

It also noted that such a restriction was not imposed when the JAG and AEC branches were opened up for the grants of permanent commission for women SSC officers in the past.

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