The Supreme Court has strongly disapproved the Indian Air Force’s decision to deny permanent commission to 14 of its women officers, who had served a maximum tenure of 15 years under the short service commission scheme (SSC).
These officers were part of the first four batches that the IAF had recruited under the SSC between 1998 and 2003.
They were not granted the benefit of the March 2010 Delhi high court verdict on the ground that they weren’t petitioners before the court and had retired by the time the judgment was pronounced. The HC had directed the army and air force to give permanent commission to its women officers appointed on SSC.
On a plea by the women, a bench of Justice RM Lodha and Justice SJ Mukopadhyaya on Friday said the officers’ talent would go waste if they were not given permanent commission. When additional solicitor general Rakesh Khanna claimed there were no vacancies to absorb the petitioners, the bench said: “This is no ground. If they are fit, they must be absorbed. If they are competent officers, you must not let them go waste. They have put so many years into service. Put them on a par with their male counterparts.”
The petitioners’ counsel, senior advocate P Narasimha, countered the ASG’s contention and placed the last release issued by the Press Information Bureau – giving details of vacancies in the army, air force and navy. He alleged that the IAF’s decision smacked of gender bias, and denied his clients their constitutional rights.
Asking the ASG to file an affidavit swearing that there was no vacancy, the bench said: “Why do you want an order from the court? You should take a lead and give them the permanent commission if they are suitable.”
The bench fixed February 19 as the date for further hearing on the matter.
The 14 women claimed they had joined the force in response to a 1991 circular that offered permanent commission to SSC officers. While their male counterparts were absorbed under the scheme, these officers were given extension on the premise that their case was under consideration. Even as several women officers left after their first tenure under the SSC got over, the petitioners continued until they were released in 2008 – just two years before the HC verdict.