Centre opens NDA to women after SC push
Nudged by the Supreme Court, the Union government has taken a decision to throw open the doors of the National Defence Academy (NDA) to women cadets -- although it has also sought an exemption for this year’s admission, exams for which are to be held in November.
The development came weeks after the top court directed that women can also sit for the upcoming NDA examination while holding that the policy that restricts their entry into the elite institution is based on “gender discrimination”.
The Centre on Wednesday informed the top court that the decision to allow women in the joint defence service training institute of the Indian armed forces was made on Tuesday evening, in consultation with the three chiefs of the armed forces and the competent authority in the government.
A bench, headed by justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, appreciated the government’s decision and asked for a detailed affidavit by September 20on the manner in which the policy is going to be implemented and the timeline for execution.
“We do hope defence forces value the important role women are performing. You may go at a comfortable pace, but redressal must take place...The armed forces play an important role in the system, for forming an immensely essential function. We would not easily interfere in their roles and would rather want them to take a proactive approach towards gender equality, instead of the court stepping in,” said the bench, which also included justice MM Sundresh.
The court observed that the armed forces are respected but, “they need to do more towards gender equality. A dynamic approach needs to be adopted”.
Breaking the glass ceiling that endured for 65 years, the top court on August 18 rejected the government’s argument that the restriction against women from training at the Pune-based NDA was a policy decision while issuing the interim order to let them sit for the upcoming exam in November. It had also implored the government to “take a more constructive view of the matter”.
The order was passed on a petition filed by Kush Kalra for equal opportunity for women at NDA and the Indian Naval Academy. Appearing for the petitioner, senior counsel Chinmoy Pradip Sharma and advocate Mohit Paul contended that the categorical exclusion of eligible female candidates from NDA was unconstitutional and done entirely on the basis of their sex.
Under the current eligibility criteria, only male candidates who have cleared Class 12 level or its equivalent, and are in the age group of 16-and-a-half and 19 are eligible to apply.
Those who clear the NDA exam are called for interview by the Service Selection Board (SSB) and following a medical exam, candidates are recruited in the Indian Army, navy, and air force wings of NDA, and for the INA course for pre-commission training. NDA was commissioned in 1955.
On Wednesday, additional solicitor general Aishwarya Bhati appeared on behalf of the Centre and began her submission by saying that the nudge and the push by the court has yielded results. “I have a rather delightful piece of news to share with your lordships. Your lordships’ nudging, persuading and pushing has made a difference. The decision has been taken at the highest level of the forces, with all the three armed forces’ chiefs, and the government that girls will be inducted in armed forces through the NDA. This decision was taken late last evening,” Bhati told the bench, which also included justice MM Sundresh.
Bhati, however, sought an exemption from admitting women in the NDA for the current year, and requested the court to consider directing a status quo for the November-exam this year. She said the policy decision will entail various changes in curriculum, procedure, training infrastructure, billets, etc.
At this justice Kaul remarked: “We were only nudging the authorities to do certain things themselves. After all, we know that they are best suited to evolve such changes. The court steps in when nothing has happened. It is not a very happy situation for us either.”
On her part, the ASG said that the “thought process” was already there and the plan was in the seeding stage when the court passed the interim order to allow women to take the next entrance exam for the NDA.
“If you had told this to us at the previous hearing, we would not have done anything at all. We are conscious of the complexity of the armed services where induction can take place; whether it can take place or not; in what time and manner it can take place. We are not oblivious to all this. But we only wanted to push you,” retorted the bench.
Adverting to Bhati’s plea regarding the status quo for the upcoming exam, the bench said: “We are conscious that reforms cannot happen in one day. We only want progress to be made. We will see depending on what you are doing now; what is the proposal for the future; what still remains to be examined; which areas you are exploring. We will see if more nudging is required or we are comfortable with your pace. But we must have some timelines.”
In its order, the bench said that it is “glad” to note that the armed forces have taken the decision for induction of women into the NDA and related issues are being examined.
“ASG Aishwarya Bhati seeks time to place the development or the future plan before us. We compliment the ASG for the proactive role in persuading the armed forces in taking an approach which is in furtherance of gender equality. We hold over the matter for two weeks,” stated the court, fixing September 22 as the next date of hearing.
The bench also heard another plea for admission of girls into the Dehradun-based Rashtriya Indian Military College (RIMC), argued by advocate Manish Kumar on behalf of NGO Centre for Reforms, Development and Justice. Kumar said that the latest advertisement issued by RIMC has yet again excluded girls. Old boys’ association of RIMC also intervened in the matter with certain suggestions. The bench asked Bhati to look into these pleas and get back with a reply on the next date.