Women officers got a shot in the arm on 3.08.2010 with the government telling the Supreme Court that it was willing to consider them for permanent commission in the Indian Army, at least in some branches.
In the face of SC’s incisive questioning on apparent prima facie discrimination against women short service commission (SSC) officers, the Centre hurriedly agreed to consider permanent commission for them in its legal and education wings, with retrospective effect.
Solicitor general Gopal Subramaniam tried to justify the Army’s decision not to grant permanent commission to women SSC officers retrospectively on the ground that they had not been given adequate training, and that those enrolled in the Army after 2008 would be entitled to permanent commission in the Judge Advocate General (legal) and educational wings.
But, with a bench, comprising Justices J M Panchal and Gyan Sudha Misra (the lone woman judge in SC), interjecting frequently to question the basis of this discriminatory attitude, Subramaniam conceded that in two months, the Army would consider grant of permanent commission to women SSC officers in legal and educational wings.
Standing virtually in contempt of the Delhi HC’s March 12 order directing the defence forces to grant permanent commission to women SSC officers, more so after Indian Air Force (IAF) fell in line, the SG had a tough task standing up to a barrage of questions from the bench ^ “what is the difference between a male SSC officer and a female SSC officer? What is the nature of job entrusted to them? If women are eligible for permanent commission in IAF, why not in Army?”
Though the SG agreed that the Centre would consider grant of permanent commission to women, there was a shocking revelation ^ there was no notification as claimed by the Centre earlier for non-grant of permanent commission to women SSC officers but a decision that had been interpreted to mean so.
This was evident when additional solicitor general Parag Tripathi read out the notification only for the bench, “So, permanent commission per se is not defined. If you cannot grant them permanent commission, then why grant them SSC at all?”
Though the development could instil hope for permanent commission for 2,200 women SSC officers in the armed forces – 1,200 in Army, 750 in IAF and 250 in Navy – it still appears to be a long battle. For, the SG was categorical that granting permanent commission to women SSC officers in combat units – infantry and artillery – could create a huge operational problem.
“It is relatively easy to grant permanent commission to women SSC officers in IAF. But in Army, grant of permanent commission means the women have to lead battalions into combat zones. For this, they have not been trained. A woman SSC officer receives only 29 weeks of training while her male counterpart is imparted 46 weeks, which includes combat training and leading troops in combat zones,” Subramaniam said.
The bench, while staying the contempt proceedings against the defence ministry for not implementing the HC directive within stipulated time, said it would later consider the larger question – whether or not to grant permanent commission to women SSC officers in combat units.
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