If you don’t, we will: SC warns govt over Coast Guard women posting | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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If you don’t, we will: SC warns govt over Coast Guard women posting

ByAbraham Thomas
Feb 27, 2024 04:58 AM IST

Supreme Court rejects Centre's argument on functional differences, demands review for woman Coast Guard officer's permanent commission

New Delhi The Supreme Court on Monday told the Centre that denying permanent commission to a woman Coast Guard officer on the ground that it is “functionally different” from the Indian Army and Indian Navy cannot be accepted in today’s times, indicating that the court will step in if the government fails to remedy the situation.

The Supreme Court was hearing a case related to Priyanka Tyagi, who served in the Coast Guard. (ANI)
The Supreme Court was hearing a case related to Priyanka Tyagi, who served in the Coast Guard. (ANI)

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud said, “If you don’t do it, we will do it,” while hearing a petition filed by a short service commission Coast Guard navigator Priyanka Tyagi, who was released after her 14-year stint with the force in December last year without being considered for permanent commission (PC).

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Attorney general (AG) R Venkataramani, appearing for the Union government, and said that the Centre is open to reviewing the matter, and has constituted a board in November last year to consider “structural changes” in the force. “The Coast Guard is functionally different from the navy and army. A board has been set up as structural changes are needed. The board is looking into the matter,” the AG said.

But the bench, also comprising justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, replied: “All this functionally different argument will not work in today’s times.” It posted the matter for Friday.

Tyagi served for 14 years and rose in the ranks from her initial appointment as assistant commandant in 2009 to Commandant (junior grade). While dealing with her case on February 19, the court had sought the Centre’s response and termed the Centre’s reluctance to see women short service commission officers in Coast Guard to be “patriarchal”. “The times have gone when you said women cannot be in Coast Guard. If women can guard borders, they can even guard the coasts,” and admonished the Centre for not translating talk of women-empowerment into action.

In February 2020, the top court gave a landmark ruling in Babita Punia judgement paving the way for women short service commission officers to be eligible for permanent commission in non-combat streams of Army and Air Force at par with their male counterparts.

Following this, results of Army selection board, de-classified on November 19, 2020, revealed that out of 615 women SSCOs, only 422 candidates were found fit on merits. This led to the second round of proceedings filed by Army women SSCOs before the top court. In Lt Col Nitisha v Union of India decided in March 2021, the assessment criteria followed by Army was struck down as discriminatory and based on gender stereotypes.

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Relief for woman navy officer Earlier in the day, another bench headed by CJI Chandrachud used its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to direct the Indian Navy to constitute a selection board to give a “third look” on the petition by a lady JAG (judge advocate general) SSC officer ex-Commodore Seema Chaudhary. Under the rules governing SSC, an officer is entitled to be considered twice, or in other words “two looks”, which Seema exhausted, each time being denied permanent commission.

She even lost her legal battle before the Supreme Court on October 20, 2020, when the top court endorsed the Indian Navy’s decision to deny her absorption. But the officer filed a review petition that was listed on Monday in open court before a bench of the CJI and justice Hima Kohli.

Senior advocate Devadatt Kamat, assisted by advocate Javedur Rehman, submitted that the petitioner is the lone officer to be considered for PC among officers commissioned pre-2008, governed by the policy of February 1999. It was argued that on two opportunities when she was denied PC, the navy selection board assessed her inter-se merit with batches of 2011 and 2014. She relied on the common judgment passed by the top court in March 2020 in the Annie Nagaraja case that paved the way for navy women to be considered at par with male SSC officers for permanent commission.

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The navy was represented by senior advocate R Balasubramanian, who pointed out that the law stood complied as she has been considered twice for permanent commission and rejected on both occasions. She got her release letter in August 2020, and four years have since lapsed since she exited from the force, he added.

But the bench, which asked for a selection board to be constituted within two months, said: “We cannot grant her permanent commission. But we will make sure she will leave our court with a smile. They are all officers who have served our nation.”

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