NDA to welcome its first-ever batch of women cadets in January 2023, Centre tells Supreme Court
New Delhi: The National Defence Academy (NDA) will be ready to welcome its first-ever batch of women cadets in January 2023 after they sit for the entrance exam in May next year, the Union government informed the Supreme Court on Monday.
“Entrance examination for entry into NDA is held twice in a year and the government proposes to have the necessary mechanism in place by May 2022, i.e. the time by which the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) is required to publish the first notification of the Year 2022 for entrance examination for entry to NDA,” stated the government’s affidavit submitted before a bench, led by justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul.
The government highlighted that a study group has been constituted by the defence services, comprising of the experts to expeditiously formulate the comprehensive curriculum for women cadets at the joint defence service training institute of the Indian armed forces and a Board of Officers (a team of senior officers) has been convened to give a holistic and futuristic proposal for training of women cadets at NDA.
The affidavit, however, has not clarified how many women cadets will be trained in the first batch, saying that the intake will depend on a mix of factors, including the cadre ratio and the desired cadre structure, capability of the specific service academy to absorb the intake, and the envisaged requirement and employment by the respective defence services.
The development came after the top court on August 18 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”.
Following this interim directive, the Union government on September 8 conceded that it has taken an in-principle decision to throw open the doors of the NDA to women cadets, but wanted an exemption for this year’s admission, exams for which are to be held in November. To this, the bench, which also included justice MM Sundresh, called for an affidavit to place the developments along with the future plans and fixed the matter for a hearing on September 22.
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 army, navy, and air force wings of NDA, and for the INA course for pre-commission training. NDA was commissioned in 1955.
The affidavit, filed on Monday, began by putting on record the decision: “The Government of India, in line with its commitment, hereby place on record its clear and categorical stand that the women candidates shall be considered for entry in the three defence services, in the existing streams, through the NDA.”
It added: “It is needless to add that any dilution of physical training and service subjects like parameters of firing, endurance training, field craft and living off the land kind of aspects for the defence services women candidates or officers would invariably impact the battle worthiness of the armed forces adversely.” The affidavit also emphasised that the execution of the decision will require deliberate planning and meticulous preparation to ensure smooth induction and seamless training of such women candidates.
“While medical standards for male candidates are in place, appropriate medical standards for women candidates are in the process of formulation. The same needs to be done before they join the academy,” stated the government.
It added that the Directorate General Armed Forces Medical Services and the body of experts shall be undertaking the required exercise for the three defence services will determine and formulate the medical standards taking into account various aspects like their young age, nature of training to be undergone as also functional and operational requirements of the army, navy and air force.
The affidavit further said that various amenities pertaining to accommodation, training capacity, security and privacy arrangements, physical segregation of living quarters, associated physical and electronic surveillance measures, additional administrative and miscellaneous requirements in terms of gender specific getting ancillary requirements etc. will have to be worked out. It stated that one of the key facets of accommodation of women candidates have to be a robust physical separation between male and female residential areas.
“All the changes that are highlighted above and which are required to be put into place to induct women candidates through NDA in compliance of the Supreme Court order shall necessarily entail reasonable time,” pleaded the government.
The government has also requested the bench to wrap up Kalra’s petition after taking on record its “affirmative stand” to open the entry of women candidates for entry in all the three defence services in the existing streams through NDA, and the commitment to publish the notification in May 2022 for entrance examination permitting women candidates to apply.
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”.
After the nudge, the government, through additional solicitor general Aishwarya Bhati, informed the bench on September 8 that the decision to allow women in NDA has been made in consultation with the three chiefs of the armed forces and the competent authority in the government.