The clamour by women officers of the armed forces seeking gender equality in matters of promotion and career opportunities is witnessing an ironical role-reversal.
After a landmark judgment by the Delhi High Court in March last year, ordering similar service conditions for male and female officers, senior male officers are crying foul over the "reverse gender bias" and are knocking the doors of the Armed Forces Tribunal in large numbers. Squadron Leaders with 9 to 14 years of service question denial of permanent commission to them while similarly placed women officers appointed prior to 2006 in Short Service Commission were being given the new status.
Giving its ruling in a petition filed by 30 such male officers, the tribunal on Thursday slammed the air force for the anti-male officer bias and ordered grant of permanent commission to them as well.
"Women officers are given permanent commission whereas male officers with identical service condition are being discriminated. This is a case of a reverse discrimination based on gender bias which cannot be countenanced," said a bench headed by Justice A K Mathur. "The Constitution says that in matters of public appointment, no discrimination can be made on the basis of gender. In this case, it is writ large", the bench added.
Rekha Palli, the counsel for the male officers, said the tribunal order would benefit around 100 similarly placed male Air Force officers. Significantly, it was Palli who had represented the women officers in Delhi High Court.
Defending itself, the Air Force had said these experienced male squadron leaders, if granted permanent commission, would be entitled to Wing Commander post and the cadre already had a surplus of 321 officers whereas there was a total shortage of 259 squadron leaders.
Feb 15, 2003: Alleging gender bias, women SSC officers move Delhi HC against denial of permanent commission while it was given to male officers
May 7, 2006: New IAF policy says neither male nor female SSC officers will be granted
March 23, 2010: HC orders permanent commission for women officers appointed before 2006
Oct 14, 2010: Male officers appointed before 2006 move Armed Forces Tribunal saying they are being denied permanent commission
Feb 25, 2011: Tribunal slams Centre and IAF for ‘reverse gender discrimination’ and orders permanent commission for male officers appointed before 2006
After women officers moved HC for permanent commission, the Air Force had in 2006 come up with a new policy stating that neither male nor female SSC officers would be granted permanent commission. But the court asked Defence ministry to grant permanent commission to lady officers appointed prior to the policy change.