Centre's refusal to appoint women in army command positions regressive, discriminatory: Women Officers to Supreme Court
Litigation News

Centre's refusal to appoint women in army command positions regressive, discriminatory: Women Officers to Supreme Court

The written submissions were filed following a note presented by the Central Government recently on the issue.

Meera Emmanuel

Women officers of the Indian Army have registered their opposition to the Central Government’s continued refusal to treat women officers on par with male officers, when it comes to the grant of permanent commission and in appointments to command positions.

Written submissions reflecting the same have been filed before the Supreme Court, in response to a note recently filed by the Central Government on the issue.

Countering the Centre’s (appellant) submissions on the issue, the women officers have submitted,

The submissions made ... with regard to national security, discrimination against males, non-trainable, exigencies of service, battle scenario, physical capabilities, composition of rank and file, environmental and psychological realities, capture by enemies, employment of Women Officers, infrastructure, different physical standards, exposures, retrospective implementation etc., need to be rejected with the contempt that it deserves.
Women officers/respondents

The officers add,

It is unfortunate that such grounds have been raised, which are completely contrary to the demonstrated records of the case, where Women Officers have been working to the best of their capacities and capabilities since they were first inducted in 1992 for the last 27-28 years.

The Women Officers have demonstrated that they do not lack in any manner in the roles that have been assigned to them. These purported grounds of Union of India, which in the submission of the Impleaded-Respondents are nothing but misconceived and false boogies, to deny Women Officers of their rightful entitlements…

The written submissions were filed by Advocate Archana Pathak Dave and settled by Senior Advocate Aishwarya Bhati in the matter of Secr., Ministry of Defence vs Babita Puniya & Ors.

The matter involves an appeal filed by the Centre before the Supreme Court, challenging a March 2010 Delhi High Court judgment, which held, inter alia, that Short Service Commissioned Women Officers (SSCWOs) of the Army are entitled to Permanent Commission at par with Gentlemen SSCOs with all consequential benefits.

Following the Delhi High Court’s 2010 judgment, the Central Government issued a notification in February 2019 granting Permanent Commission to SSCWOs in 8 streams (i.e. Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Army Air Defence, Electronics and Mechanicals Engineers [EME], Army Service Corps, Army Ordnance Corps and Intelligence), in addition to the existing 2 streams of JAG & AEC.

However, this 2019 notification itself has been contended to be arbitrary and constituting hostile discrimination given the following reasons:


Prospective nature of the Policy

The respondent/women officers have pointed out that the option of permanent commission would be denied to serving women officers who have been serving for more than 14 years, as per the 2019 prospective notification.

Further that, “consolation prize of completing pensionary service is proposed for these extraordinary and experienced Women Officers, in lieu of denying them the constitutional guarantees as also the fruits of their litigation.

Instead, the women officers assert that, “all serving Women Officers above 14 years of service [should also] be equitably granted the option of Permanent Commission and they may be assessed on the basis of their suitability, as reflected in the ACRs and medical fitness, and be granted Permanent Commission.”

The need to adopt an inclusionary approach has also been underscored.

In any case, the Union of India must be mandated to carry out an equitable screening exercise, if at all, for the purpose of grant of permanent commission to the serving Women Officers of Indian Army whose demonstrated career graph can be reckoned for the same purpose. This exercise must be inclusionary, rather than exclusionary."

On permanent commission of women officers being restricted to staff positions

The second point of contention on the 2019 policy concerns confining grant of permanent commission to women officers when it comes “staff appointments” only, and not “criteria appointments/command appointments.”

It has been argued that such a move would render women officers second grade officers in the army.

“The ‘criteria appointments’ are important appointments in the Army organizational setup and to confine Women Officers to ‘staff appointments only’, would effectively render the Women Officers as second grade officers in the Indian Army.”

Women officers/respondents

The officers further argue that,

“It is submitted that the justification/reasons stated in the Note handed over on behalf of the Union of India with regard to denying Women Officers command appointments is not highly regressive but also completely contrary to the demonstrated record and statistics. The demonstrated fact is that the Women Officers have been serving in the 10 Combat Support Arms, for the last 27-28 years and have proven their metal and courage under fire…"

To deny them command appointments would be an extremely retrograde step and will inflict irreparable injury to the dignity of these brave women.
Women officers/respondents

Exercise of option on completion of 3 years and before completion of 4 years of commissioned service

The women officers are also aggrieved by para 4 of the 2019 policy which requires the women officers to exercise option for grant of Permanent Commission and their choices of specialization, on completion of 3 years and before completion of 4 years commissioned service. This is argued to be discriminatory, qua the options given to Gentlemen Officers, to opt from SSC to Permanent Commission.

Delay in implementation of policy

On a broader note, the women officers have also registered their grievance over the delay in carrying out measures to implement the Delhi High Court’s 2010 judgment, which the respondents assert was never stayed.

Inter alia, the women officers have submitted,

“… having delayed grant of Permanent Commission to Women Officers at par with Gentlemen Officers of the Indian Army for 10 years, even after the judgment of the Hon'ble High Court makes it writ large that the cause of the Women Officers has been treated with callousness, apathy, negligence at the hands of the policy makers and even after the policy was made, the administrators managed to take away substantial benefits from the deserving Women Officers, who have now proven themselves in the Army itself for the last 27-28 years."

… The Union of India alone is responsible for this excessive and avoidable delay and Women Officers must not face the brunt for this delay.
Women officers/respondents

The judgment in the matter is likely to be pronounced tomorrow.

[Read the Written Submissions here]

Secr., Ministry of Defence vs Babita Puniya & Ors. - Written Submissions by women officers.pdf
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