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Why military has sought more time to induct women into NDA

The aspects that the forces will have to work on in quick time include medical standards, accommodation, training capacity, security and privacy arrangements, physical segregation of living quarters, and additional gender-specific administrative and other requirements
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Updated on Sep 23, 2021 06:10 PM IST

The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday told the Centre that women aspiring to join the armed forces should be allowed to take the entrance examination for the National Defence Academy (NDA) in November 2021, two days after the government told the court that the academy will be ready to welcome the first-ever batch of women cadets in January 2023, after they sit for the entrance exam in May 2022.

The SC refused to vacate its interim order allowing women aspirants to take the entrance examination slated to be held this November, despite the government affidavit on September 20 seeking more time to address a raft of pre-induction aspects.

The aspects that the forces will have to work on in quick time now include medical standards, accommodation, training capacity, security and privacy arrangements, physical segregation of living quarters, associated physical and electronic surveillance measures, and additional gender-specific administrative and other requirements.

The headcount of women in the military has increased almost three-fold over the last six years, with more avenues being opened to them at a steady pace. As of February 2021, 9,118 women were serving in the Army, Navy and Air Force.

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The top court’s landmark interim order on August 18 directed the government to allow women to take the next entrance exam for NDA, thus far, a male preserve.

In a detailed affidavit filed on Monday, the government said that planning and preparation are required for the smooth induction and seamless training of women candidates.

Here are some of the areas it said required attention.

Medical standards: The Centre said that while medical standards for male cadets are in place, appropriate equivalent standards for women candidates are to be formulated. It said that the Armed Forces Medical Services and a panel of experts will determine and formulate the standards factoring in young age, the format of training, and functional and operational requirements of the three services.

The government said there were no parallel standards for women candidates at the entry age of 16.6 to 19.5 years.

Students become eligible to take the NDA and Naval Academy Examination, conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), while they are in Class 12.

Those who clear the entrance exam have to face the Services Selection Board or the SSB (a rigorous personality and intelligence test spread over five days). Candidates accepted by the SSB undergo a medical examination before UPSC releases the final merit list. After training at NDA for three years, cadets head for further training at different academies depending on their choice of service before being commissioned as officers.

The physical and medical standards for men for entry to NDA are extremely stringent, covering several aspects including the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, gastrointestinal system, central nervous system, ophthalmology and dental fitness standards. Equivalent standards for women in the NDA entry age group are yet to be formulated.

Strength intake: The government also highlighted that the augmentation of the infrastructure at the academy had to be based on the envisaged strength of women cadets who would undergo training there.

It said the determination of cadre strength would depend on the capability of NDA to absorb the additional intake and subsequent employment in the three services based on operational, budgetary and administrative criteria.

These factors, it said, would determine how many women cadets can be inducted into NDA. After joining NDA, cadets are assigned to one of the 18 squadrons that form part of five battalions. Each squadron has 100 to 120 cadets from senior and junior courses training at the academy. It has a maximum training capacity of around 2,000 cadets every year.

Training standards and curriculum: The Centre said that apart from education, the NDA curriculum includes military training, physical training, sport, and other activities to shape the cadets into proficient soldiers and competent officers. It said though the education curriculum is clearly defined, other aspects of training will have to be formulated separately for women cadets.

“The issue needs detailed analysis including expert inputs to maintain operational readiness. Any dilution of physical training and service subjects like parameters of firing, endurance training, fieldcraft and living off the land aspects for defence services’ women cadets/officers would invariably impact the battle worthiness of the armed forces adversely,” the affidavit said.

Biological factors will require the academy to come up with a fresh physical curriculum for women as the same qualitative requirements for training can’t apply to both men and women, experts have said.

Segregation of living areas and the creation of new bathrooms: The Centre said that one of the critical aspects related to accommodation for women cadets would be “robust physical segregation” between the male and female living quarters. It said preparatory actions would require time. The Centre said the number of cabins for women officers would have to be augmented progressively.

It said the existing bathroom cubicles would not be sufficient to meet the requirements of women cadets, and more facilities will have to be created to ensure privacy.

Security and other gender-specific issues: Physical and electronic surveillance measures will have to be put in place, the Centre said. Their induction will need the appointment of women assistants, duty officers and instructors.

The government will also have to augment the strength of gynaecologists, sports medicine specialists, counsellors, and nursing staff at the Military Hospital, Khadakwasla. The Centre has appointed a study group to look into various gender-specific aspects to expedite the induction of women into NDA.

The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday told the Centre that women aspiring to join the armed forces should be allowed to take the entrance examination for the National Defence Academy (NDA) in November 2021, two days after the government told the court that the academy will be ready to welcome the first-ever batch of women cadets in January 2023, after they sit for the entrance exam in May 2022.

The SC refused to vacate its interim order allowing women aspirants to take the entrance examination slated to be held this November, despite the government affidavit on September 20 seeking more time to address a raft of pre-induction aspects.

The aspects that the forces will have to work on in quick time now include medical standards, accommodation, training capacity, security and privacy arrangements, physical segregation of living quarters, associated physical and electronic surveillance measures, and additional gender-specific administrative and other requirements.

The headcount of women in the military has increased almost three-fold over the last six years, with more avenues being opened to them at a steady pace. As of February 2021, 9,118 women were serving in the Army, Navy and Air Force.

The top court’s landmark interim order on August 18 directed the government to allow women to take the next entrance exam for NDA, thus far, a male preserve.

In a detailed affidavit filed on Monday, the government said that planning and preparation are required for the smooth induction and seamless training of women candidates.

RELATED STORIES

Also Read | Supreme Court rejects plea against BJP leaders Raman Singh, Sambit Patra in ‘toolkit’ case

Here are some of the areas it said required attention.

Medical standards: The Centre said that while medical standards for male cadets are in place, appropriate equivalent standards for women candidates are to be formulated. It said that the Armed Forces Medical Services and a panel of experts will determine and formulate the standards factoring in young age, the format of training, and functional and operational requirements of the three services.

The government said there were no parallel standards for women candidates at the entry age of 16.6 to 19.5 years.

Students become eligible to take the NDA and Naval Academy Examination, conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), while they are in Class 12.

Those who clear the entrance exam have to face the Services Selection Board or the SSB (a rigorous personality and intelligence test spread over five days). Candidates accepted by the SSB undergo a medical examination before UPSC releases the final merit list. After training at NDA for three years, cadets head for further training at different academies depending on their choice of service before being commissioned as officers.

The physical and medical standards for men for entry to NDA are extremely stringent, covering several aspects including the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, gastrointestinal system, central nervous system, ophthalmology and dental fitness standards. Equivalent standards for women in the NDA entry age group are yet to be formulated.

Strength intake: The government also highlighted that the augmentation of the infrastructure at the academy had to be based on the envisaged strength of women cadets who would undergo training there.

It said the determination of cadre strength would depend on the capability of NDA to absorb the additional intake and subsequent employment in the three services based on operational, budgetary and administrative criteria.

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These factors, it said, would determine how many women cadets can be inducted into NDA. After joining NDA, cadets are assigned to one of the 18 squadrons that form part of five battalions. Each squadron has 100 to 120 cadets from senior and junior courses training at the academy. It has a maximum training capacity of around 2,000 cadets every year.

Training standards and curriculum: The Centre said that apart from education, the NDA curriculum includes military training, physical training, sport, and other activities to shape the cadets into proficient soldiers and competent officers. It said though the education curriculum is clearly defined, other aspects of training will have to be formulated separately for women cadets.

“The issue needs detailed analysis including expert inputs to maintain operational readiness. Any dilution of physical training and service subjects like parameters of firing, endurance training, fieldcraft and living off the land aspects for defence services’ women cadets/officers would invariably impact the battle worthiness of the armed forces adversely,” the affidavit said.

Biological factors will require the academy to come up with a fresh physical curriculum for women as the same qualitative requirements for training can’t apply to both men and women, experts have said.

Segregation of living areas and the creation of new bathrooms: The Centre said that one of the critical aspects related to accommodation for women cadets would be “robust physical segregation” between the male and female living quarters. It said preparatory actions would require time. The Centre said the number of cabins for women officers would have to be augmented progressively.

It said the existing bathroom cubicles would not be sufficient to meet the requirements of women cadets, and more facilities will have to be created to ensure privacy.

Security and other gender-specific issues: Physical and electronic surveillance measures will have to be put in place, the Centre said. Their induction will need the appointment of women assistants, duty officers and instructors.

The government will also have to augment the strength of gynaecologists, sports medicine specialists, counsellors, and nursing staff at the Military Hospital, Khadakwasla. The Centre has appointed a study group to look into various gender-specific aspects to expedite the induction of women into NDA.

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