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Women Army officers win long battle, can get command posts | Press24-India News

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NEW DELHI: Twenty-eight years after they first entered the Army, women officers broke an armour-plated ceiling on Monday when the Supreme Court ordered grant of permanent commission (PC) in 10 non-battlefield services in three months and held them to be eligible to hold command posts. The government had a little over a year ago granted PC to newly-recruited women officers in these services, but not those short service commission (SSC) officers already in the force. The SC verdict extends it to all. The decision of the bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi to trash the Army’s “weaker sex” argument was a fitting finale to the 14-year-old litigation for equality doggedly fought by short service commission (SSC) women officers through senior advocates Meenakshi Lekhi and Aishwarya Bhati. The battle was first waged in the Delhi high court from 2006 to 2010 — which the women officers won — and then in the SC from 2010 till date. Importantly, it said those women officers who do not opt for permanent commission despite more than 14 years of service “will be entitled to continue in service until they attain 20 years of pensionable service”. “Women SSC officers shall be entitled to exercise their options for being considered for grant of permanent commission on the same terms as their male counterparts,” the bench said. Short service commission is up to 14 years. Rejecting the Army’s argument against grant of command posts to women officers on the ground that the forces were not sociologically trained to serve under women, the bench said, “The blanket non-consideration of women for criteria or command appointments, absent an individuated justification by the Army, cannot be sustained in law.” It upheld the defence ministry’s February 25, 2019, decision to grant permanent commission to SSC women officers in Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Army Air Defence, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers, Army Service Corps, Army Ordinance Corps and Intelligence, Judge Advocate General and Army Education Corps. Writing the judgment, Chandrachud said the decision to exclude women officers from holding command posts, determined on the basis of an individual’s performance, was indefensible. “If the Army has cogent reasons for excluding women from a particular criteria or command appointment, it may provide them to relevant authorities and if necessary, to future courts,” it said, indicating that wrong denial of promotion of women officers to command posts would be open to judicial scrutiny. Chandrachud said, “The decision of the Union government to extend the grant of permanent commission (to women officers) in support arms and services recognises that the physiological features of a woman have no significance to her equal entitlements under the Constitution.” Referring to senior advocate R Balasubramanian’s argument on behalf of the Army against extending grant of PC to all women officers, the SC frowned at attempts to stereotype them as the “weaker sex” and said it only went to show the urgent need “for change in mindsets to bring about true equality in Army”. “Confronted on the one hand with a solemn policy decision taken by the Union government allowing for the grant of permanent commission to women SSC officers in 10 streams, we have yet on the other hand a whole baseless line of submissions solemnly made to this court to detract from the vital role that has been played by women SSC officers in the line of duty,” the bench said. It recorded how the UPA government and then the NDA government dilly-dallied in implementing the Delhi HC’s 2010 decision, which was not stayed by the SC. It recorded that on August 2, 2010, the then solicitor general had given an undertaking on behalf of the Union government in the SC that “women SSC officers in service would be considered for grant of permanent commission in JAG and education branch of Army in two months”.

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