In picture: Tanya Shergill leading all-man contingent on Army Day, 2020
In picture: Tanya Shergill leading all-man contingent on Army Day, 2020|Image courtesy: Twitter
Litigation News

Women officers to be granted Permanent Commission, exclusion from Command Postings violates Articles 14: Supreme Court

The Bench observed that the Centre's stance taken against the same was disturbing and perpetuated gender stereotypes.

Shruti Mahajan

The Supreme Court has upheld the 2010 ruling of the Delhi High Court which had held that Women Short Service Commission officers are entitled to Permanent Commission on par with their male counterparts. Further, the Bench has also directed the Central Government to implement the ruling within three months time.

The Court has clarified that the ruling is applicable for all women officers currently in service, effectively setting aside the Centre's decision to grant women officers Permanent Commission on limited terms.

The Court today also pulled up the Central Government in delaying grant of Permanent Commission on par with male officers, in line with a 2010 ruling to that effect by the Delhi High Court.

Following the 2010 ruling, it was only in 2019 that the Centre issued a policy that extended Permanent Commission to women officers in eight streams, apart from the two streams of Judge Advocate General (JAG) and Army Education Corps (AEC).

Justices DY Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi
Justices DY Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi

The Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi took critical note that the judgment of the Delhi High Court was never stayed. It was pointed out that the Supreme Court had only directed that no coercive steps be taken during the pendency of the Centre's appeal against the High Court Judgement.

Observing that this is different from a stay, the Bench observed that nothing prevented the government from implementing the Delhi High Court judgment

Scant regard has been paid to the Delhi High Court and this Court
Supreme Court

The Court further remarked that the Centre's submissions on the issue, against the grant of Permanent Commission to women officers on par with male officers, were based on set stereotypes.

The Court observed that society holds a strong belief in gender roles, and that men are physically stronger while women are weak and submissive. The Court highlighted that this is a "flawed notion" that "women are the weaker sex."

The Court remarked that the line of reasoning adopted by the Central Government in its submissions perpetuated gender stereotypes and were disturbing, apart from being contrary to its own 2019 policy

In the backdrop of these observations, the Court found that it is indefensible to deny Permanent Commission to women. Further the Court has held that the"blanket ban on command posting (for women officers) cannot be sustained in law."

The Centre's 2019 policy had confined to allowing Permanent Commission with respect to staff postings for women officers. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, has now held that the exclusion of women from appointment to command posts goes violates the principles against discrimination and equal opportunity in public services under Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution.

Notably, the Court has also ruled that Permanent Commission will apply to all women officers in service irrespective of their number of years in service. The Centre's policy had denied this opportunity to women officers who had crossed 14 years of service.

On the other hand, the Court has ruled that the grant of Permanent Commission should be available equally to all women officers serving in the armed forces. To do otherwise, would be a travesty of justice, the Court opined.

The Court has directed the Centre to implement its policy decision of 2019, clarifying that the prospective effect of this judgement would mean that it is applicable to all women officers who are in service at the moment.

The judgment comes in 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.

The case assumed controversy after the Centre submitted a written note to the Apex Court citing reasons for not granting permanent commission for women officers on par with men, and notable for the refusal to appoint women officers in command positions. Some of the reasons cited included that certain male troops may not be ready to accept women in commanding positions as well as the physiological differences between men and women.

The Bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud, however, was offered a clarification later that the Centre had not mean to state the men cannot take orders from women. The Court had agreed that the argument made in the Courtroom was more nuanced and detailed than its oversimplification by the media.

Following this, women officers impleaded as respondents in the matter had also countered the points made by the Centre opposing the grant of permanent commission on par with male officers.

[Read the Judgment]

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