- The Supreme Court in Secretary, Ministry of Defence vs. Babita Puniya case directed the government to ensure that women officers in the Army be granted permanent commission (PC) as well as command postings in all services other than combat.
- After this judgement, women Short Service Commission (SSC) officers approached the Supreme Court challenging the arbitrary process applied in the defence forces to deny permanent commission to women officers.
GS-I: Indian Society (Issues related to Women, Women Empowerment, Issues in Indian Society)
In reference to the landmark judgement of the Supreme Court, what will be the impact of granting permanent commission to women officers in the defence forces? (10 Marks)
Dimensions of the Article:
- What is Permanent Commission (PC)?
- History of Indian women in the defence services
- SC on eligibility of women for PC
- Government’s arguments and Criticisms taken up in the SC
- Response after the SC verdict
- Implications of the judgement on granting PC to women
- SC on the case challenging procedure followed for granting PC to women
What is Permanent Commission (PC)?
- A Permanent Commission (PC) means a career in the army until one retires. If one gets selected through PC, one has the option to serve the country up to the full age of retirement.
- On the other hand, Short Service Commission (SSC) means an officer’s career will be of a limited period in the Indian Armed Forces. The officers inducted through the SSC usually serve for a period of 14 years.
SSC to PC
At the end of 10 years of service, the officers inducted through the SSC have three options:
- They can either select for a PC
- Opt-out and exit the services
- Take up the 4-years extension (Until the 14 years of SSC), wherein they can resign at any time during this period of 4 years extension.
History of Indian women in the defence services
- In 1888, the role of women in the Indian army began when the “Indian Military Nursing Service” was formed during the British Raj.
- During 1914-45, British Indian Army nurses fought in World War I (1914–18) and World War II (1939-45).
- At present, all wings of the Indian Armed Forces allow women in combat roles (junior ranks) and combat supervisory roles (officers), except Indian Army (support roles only) and Special Forces of India (trainer role only) (c. 2017).
- In 1992, the Union Government issued a notification making women eligible for appointment as officers in select non-combat branches. In 2008, the government extended the permanent commission to women in two branches — Judge Advocate General (JAG) and Army Educational Corps (AEC).
- Recently, the Supreme Court upheld the right of serving Short Service Commission (SSC) women officers of the Navy to be granted Permanent Commission (PC) on a par with their male counterparts.
SC on eligibility of women for PC
- The Supreme Court dismissed the Union government’s submissions that women are physiologically weaker than men as a “sex stereotype”.
- The Supreme Court declared that Short Service Commission (SSC) women officers are eligible for permanent commission and command posts in the Army irrespective of their years of service
- The court dismissed the government’s stand that only women officers with less than 14 years of service ought to be considered for permanent commission, and those with over 20 years of service should be pensioned immediately.
- The SC said that “The battle for gender equality is about confronting the battles of the mind.”
- The court has done away with all discrimination on the basis of years of service for grant of PC in 10 streams of combat support arms and services, bringing them on a par with male officers.
- The SC did not extend the benefit of its ruling to those SSC officers who have since retired, however, it granted them pensionary benefits and compensation of`25 lakh to some for loss of the opportunity.
Government’s arguments and Criticisms taken up in the SC
- The Government had proposed that women officers with up to 14 years of service would be granted a permanent commission, while those above 14 years would be permitted to serve for up to 20 years and retire with pension without being considered for permanent commission.
- It also stated that those with more than 20 years of service would immediately be released with pension
- This order did not grant permanent commission to women with over 14 years of service, and hence discriminatory.
- Furthermore, the 2019 government order granted permanent commission only for staff appointments and not command appointments. – The centre justified this by stating that that the units in Army are composed entirely of male soldiers, who are mostly from rural backgrounds and thus, are not mentally prepared to accept women officers in the command of units.
- It also stated that the lower physical capacity of women officers would be a challenge for them to command units wherein officers are expected to lead the men from the front and need to be in prime physical condition to undertake combat tasks.
- The government also stated that the adverse conditions, including two unsettled borders and internal security situations in the northeast and Jammu and Kashmir, have a major bearing on the employment of women officers in light of their physiological limitations. – The Government had stated that the isolation and hardships would eat into their resolve and that they have to heed to the call of pregnancy, childbirth and family.
- The government also argued that women ran the risk of capture by the enemy and being taken as prisoners of war.
Response after the SC verdict
- the Defence Ministry issued the government sanction letter, specifying grant of permanent commission to women officers in all streams in which they are presently serving — Army Air Defence (AAD), Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME), Army Service Corps (ASC), Army Ordnance Corps (AOC) and Intelligence Corps.
- Following the sanction letter, the Army constituted a special selection board for screening women officers for grant of permanent commission who joined the service through the Women Special Entry Scheme (WSES) and Short Service Commission Women (SSCW).
- Some petitioners said the process followed for granting permanent commission after medical scrutiny was arbitrary and challenged it in the SC.
Implications of the judgement on granting PC to women
- The SC did away with all discrimination on the basis of years of service for grant of PC in 10 streams of combat support arms and services, bringing them on a par with male officers.
- It has also removed the restriction of women officers only being allowed to serve in staff appointments, which is the most significant and far-reaching aspect of the judgment.
- It means that women officers will be eligible to the tenant all the command appointments, at par with male officers, which would open avenues for further promotions to higher ranks for them.
- It also means that in junior ranks and career courses, women officers would be attending the same training courses and tenanting critical appointments, which are necessary for higher promotions.
SC on the case challenging procedure followed for granting PC to women
- The SC observed that the pattern of evaluation inherently caused economic and psychological harm to women Short Service Commission (SSC) officers and the evaluation criteria set by the Army constituted “systemic discrimination” against the petitioners.
- According to the SC: All women officers who have fulfilled the cut-off grade of 60% in the Special Selection Board shall be entitled to the grant of permanent commission.
- The court directed that the method of evaluation of ACR (Annual Confidential Reports) and the cut-off must be reviewed for future batches to assess a disproportionate impact on WSSCOs who became eligible for the grant of permanent commission in the subsequent years of their service.
-Source: The Hindu