Women in armed forces: SC for retrospective effect in permanent commission

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Supreme Court of India

By Sumit Saxena

New Delhi– The Supreme Court on Tuesday said the armed forces should consider granting permanent commission to women officers in armed forces under the Short Service Commission (SSC) before March 2019. The Army has notified permanent commission to women officers, who join the forces under SSC, after March 2019.

The top court asked the Centre to look at the positive side of granting permanent commission to women officers in retrospective effect, and expand the ambit of the benefit to women officers serving under SSC before March 2019.

“It will show India in a different way on the world platform”, observed the court.

The government has already issued notification for permanent jobs to women officers in ten branches of the Army.

A bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud frowned at Army’s move to grant permanent commission to women officers who joined the forces under SSC after March 2019, and not to include those who are already serving under SSC before March 2019.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has supported the idea of permanent commission for women and announced the change in policy in his Independence Day speech last year. Some women officers have been in the job for nearly twenty years, while SSC term terminates in fourteen years.

In the absence of implementation of policy in retrospective effect, women officers working for several years in the armed forces are unlikely to reap the benefits. Due to pendency of the matter, petitioners continue to remain in SSC, where they are denied promotions.

According to the new system, women officers under SSC would have to indicate the choice for permanent commission within four years of service.

The court said it does not appreciate the prospective implementation of the notification by the armed forces after March 2019. The court emphasized the women working under SSC for decades, also fighting legal battles, should be brought on board as officers under permanent commission.

“These women are in the service of the nation and you should give them permanent commission, which will show India in a different way on the world platform”, Justice Chandrachud told Additional Solicitor General representing the Centre.

The court also told the Centre’s counsel to look at its direction from the perspective of an opportunity.

“We can pass orders ourselves, but we want to give you the opportunity, and take credit”, said Justice Chandrachud. The court asked the Centre’s counsel to revert with a positive response on November 28, and that it will not adjourn the matter again.

The Centre had moved the apex court challenging the Delhi High Court March 2010 verdict directing the armed forces to grant permanent commission to women officers on SSC.

The apex court did not stay the order and issued notice to women officers, who had moved the High Court.

The government had rolled out a policy in February 2019 granting permanent commission in ten branches of Army – Judge Advocate General, Army Education Corps, Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Army Air Defence, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers, Army Service Corps, Army Ordinance Corps and Intelligence.

The Centre’s counsel sought more time to respond, but the court wanted instructions within a week.

Senior advocate Aishwarya Bhatti, appearing for women officers, contended that Army has offered to grant permanent commission to women officers prospectively, from April 2020, and in the absence of retrospective effect, the policy will not benefit women who fought against gender bias in the forces.

All branches in the Indian Air Force, including fighter pilots, are already opened for women officers. In the Navy, SSC has been applicable in all non-sea going branches. In Naval Armament branch, women officer under SSC are eligible for grant of permanent commission. (IANS)

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