In Supreme Court, Centre justifies the limit on women candidates in NDA

Updated on Mar 08, 2022 06:30 AM IST

The top court would examine the government’s affidavit on Tuesday when it hears the public interest litigation filed by Kush Kalra.

The NDA exam is conducted twice a year, NDA-I in the first half of the year and NDA-II in the second.
The NDA exam is conducted twice a year, NDA-I in the first half of the year and NDA-II in the second.
By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

The Union government has justified in the Supreme Court restricting the intake of women cadets in the National Defence Academy (NDA) to 19 per batch for the time being, claiming the number is based on sound rationale and current requirement of the armed forces.

The NDA exam is conducted twice a year, NDA-I in the first half of the year and NDA-II in the second.

Submitting its affidavit in response to a court query on limiting the intake of women cadets to 19 for each batch of the NDA, the government has informed a bench headed by justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul that “a considered decision has been taken” to allot 10 vacancies for women cadets in the NDA for army, three for navy and six for air force respectively.

While the air force has decided to keep the intake of women cadets to six per batch of NDA for the next five years, said the government, a comprehensive assessment would be required to ascertain whether the total strength of women cadets need to go up in future for the army and the navy.

“Induction of women cadets in the NDA has been a major policy decision. The respondents need sufficient time for deliberating implications in the long term for induction and deployment of ex-NDA women cadets in the Indian armed forces,” stated the affidavit, requesting for another three months to convey whether the government would increase the intake of women cadets.

The top court would examine the government’s affidavit on Tuesday when it hears the public interest litigation filed by Kush Kalra.

On January 18, the bench, which also comprised justice MM Sundresh, observed that “only 19 seats cannot be for all times to come”, as it asked the government to explain the rationale behind restricting the intake of women cadets in the upcoming session of the NDA to 19 -- the same as last year.

The Centre was put on notice after senior counsel Chinmoy Pradip Sharma and advocate Mohit Paul complained about a fresh notification issued by the Union Public Services Commission for NDA-I exam in 2022, limiting the intake of women cadets to just 19.

Kalra’s lawyers rued that this figure seemed to be arbitrarily picked up from the previous entrance exam, wherein the number of women candidates to be inducted in NDA-II, 2021 was 19 -- 10 in the army, three in the navy and six in the air force. They cited the Centre’s affidavit in September 2021, promising the court that it would soon have the required infrastructure ready for full intake of women.

Replying through its affidavit, the government justified limiting the intake to 19 per batch for the present while underlining that “a major policy decision needs an adaptation period to evaluate the effect and therefore a substantial amount of time is required to review, analyze and assess the net impact”.

The affidavit filed through the Ministry of Defence (MoD) argued that proportional strength of women cadets in the NDA is presently adequate given the cadre structure in the armed forces and “smooth assimilation of desired changes in the organisational environment”.

It also sought to “establish the intent of the defence forces in correct perspective” before the court by pointing out that at present, women officers, including those in the Army Medical Corps and the Military Nursing Service, constitute 13.6% of the officers’ cadre and thus, India followed only USA, Australia and France in having significant representation of women in its forces. USA’s defence forces comprise 17% women, followed by Australia and France which have 16.5% and 15% women, respectively.

Detailing requirements of army, navy and air force separately in the affidavit, the government underlined that the three services have adduced specific rationale behind absorption of only a certain number of women cadets from the NDA.

Army and air force have also sought to strike a balance between pregnancy and motherhood of women officers with operational requirements while arriving at their numbers of absorption from the NDA, added the government.

It further said that as many as 506 women officers have been granted permanent commission in the army in view of a series of orders of the Supreme Court starting February 2020 and its impact on the cadre management would have to be assessed too.

“The Indian Army since has been simultaneously engaged in a large number of operational challenges, especially on northern borders, which have effected permanent changes in deployment and various other operational facets, requiring in-depth analysis and extrapolated impacts in cadre management to include women officers’ operational employment,” added the affidavit.

Breaking the glass ceiling that endured for 65 years, the top court in August 2021 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 exam in November.

It had also implored the government to “take a more constructive view of the matter”, prompting the Union government to come back to the court in September 2021 with a policy decision to open the doors of the NDA to women cadets as well.

Under the eligibility criteria at that point of time, only male candidates who cleared class 12 level or its equivalent education and were in the age group of 16-and-a-half and 19 were 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.

Each course at the NDA has 370 vacancies for the three services. Of these, 208 cadets get commissioned in the army, 120 get commissioned in the air force while 42 get commissioned in the navy.

In the exam conducted in November 2021, women candidates comprised 178,000 of 570,000 applications, and 1,002 women cleared the written exam. The UPSC came out with a press note in December 2021, declaring 19 women candidates as successful.

UPSC also issued a notice on December 22, 2021 for NDA-I exam notifying the figures for induction in the armed forces. It mentioned a total of 208 candidates, including 10 women, for the army; 42, including three women for the navy; and 120 candidates, including six women, for the air force. According to this notice, all 30 seats in the Naval Academy were to be filled up only by male cadets.

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, 118 women were serving in the armed forces.

The Supreme Court, in February 2020, ruled that SSC women officers were entitled to permanent commission (PC) in the army and navy and that they have to be considered irrespective of their service length. This judgment led to around 5,020 women officers being granted PC.

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