Note march of time, SC tells Coast Guard on permanent commission to woman officer | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Note march of time, SC tells Coast Guard on permanent commission to woman officer

ByAbraham Thomas
Apr 09, 2024 10:43 AM IST

The Supreme Court on Monday told the Indian Coast Guard to note “the march of time” in connection to the permanent commission of women in the Army, Navy and Air Force

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday told the Indian Coast Guard to note “the march of time” in connection to the permanent commission of women in the Army, Navy and Air Force as it directed a woman short-service commission officer, who was released from service in December 2023, to be reinstated as an interim measure till it decides on her plea for parity with male counterparts.

SC directed a woman short-service commission officer, who was released from service in December 2023, to be reinstated as an interim measure till it decides on her plea for parity with male counterparts. (HT Archive)
SC directed a woman short-service commission officer, who was released from service in December 2023, to be reinstated as an interim measure till it decides on her plea for parity with male counterparts. (HT Archive)

A bench headed by chief justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud scoffed at the resistance shown by the Coast Guard represented by attorney general R Venkataramani and additional solicitor general (ASG) Vikramjeet Banerjee.

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“Look at your resistance of having a single woman in the Coast Guard. This was the same resistance Cornelia Sorabjee (first female advocate in India) when she was told you are not good enough. When women came into Army and Air Force, they were told you are not good enough. And in the Navy, they were told we do not have toilets for you. See the march of time.”

The order said, “As regards Army, Navy and Air Force, this court has already rendered judgments. Unfortunately, the Indian Coast Guard continues to be an outlier.”

The court was considering a petition filed by Priyanka Tyagi who served as an assistant commandant (general duty) at the time of her release from force on December 31, 2023. She was the best in her lot having 3,700 flying hours, better than her male counterparts, and was even recommended by her seniors for absorption considering her meritorious service, according to petition filed by Tyagi.

As her petition seeking permanent commission is pending before the Delhi high court, the top court directed the matter to be transferred to the apex court.

“Having regard to the constitutional mandate under Article 15 of the Constitution (which speaks of right against non-discrimination on several grounds including gender), this matter should be heard by this court.”

As an interim measure, the bench, also comprising justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, said, “We direct the services of the petitioner shall be continued in Coast Guard as on the date she was released till further orders. She shall be assigned a suitable posting as per her qualification.”

Women short service commission officers (WSSCO) in Army and Air Force got parity with male officers after the top court in 2020 in Babita Puniya case held that all serving WSSCOs shall be considered for grant of permanent commission (PC) irrespective of any of them having crossed 14 years of service, or as the case may be, 20 years of service. Those who do not opt for PC after 14 years were allowed to continue in service till they attain 20 years of pensionable service.

By a separate order in Annie Nagaraja case filed by women SSCOs seeking permanent commission in Indian Air Force, the court extended the same relief in March 2020 as provided in Babita Puniya. A year later, in March 2021, the top court passed yet another decision in Nitisha v Union of India striking out discriminatory yardsticks adopted by Army’s special board while considering the cases of the women officers for PC.

AG told the court that this had nothing to do with gender justice and there was no resistance on this ground from the Coast Guard.

”There cannot be a theoretical approach to this issue. A comparison cannot be made with short service commission (SSC) women officers in Army, Navy and Air Force as there are infrastructural aspects involved here. Moreover, in my discussions with Coast Guard, there was never a resistance to gender equality,” he said.

The court remarked, “You (Coast Guard) have all arguments to deny what is her due. Is this the way you treat women officers. She has 3700 flying hours and has worked for 14 years.”

ASG Banerjee told the court that women were being inducted by Coast Guard as permanent officers. He further pointed out that the petitioner chose the short service commission stream realising that the stream of her choice - general duty -- did not have the option of permanent commission. He said that women permanent officers are there in the law wing.

As the petitioner was inducted as SSC officer in November 2009, the court wished to know if any woman officer was since inducted under general duty as a permanent officer.

Senior advocate Archana Pathak Dave informed the court that except law, women are not allowed entry as a permanent officer as she wondered why the Coast Guard, despite being a defence force of the country, cannot open up for the women, when they have been treated at par with male counterparts in Army, Navy and Air Force.

The bench told Banerjee, “Everybody should be equally treated and for that, there should be a level-playing field. Efforts by us will end only when there is true gender equality.”

In March, while responding to Tyagi’s petition, a common affidavit filed by the Centre and Coast Guard stated that its ships are not designed to accommodate women on sea duties. It said, “The existing infrastructure of the Coast Guard related to ships and bases need modification before female officers can be sent on seaborne missions alongside male officers.”

Further, it stated, “For the purpose of enlarging the strength of their entry, several operational measures are required to be undertaken. Without putting into effect such operational measures, provision for a greater number of women officers will not be feasible.”

Currently, out of the 66% billets (accommodations) sanctioned for manning afloat units (seaborne ships) and 33% billets sanctioned for manning shore support units, only 10% of shore billets (lodgment for officers) are being considered for women officers, the affidavit added. “The older ships were much smaller in size and could not provide for separate accommodation and allied facilities for women officers and therefore in future, the ships and bases will be modified.”

Tyagi was appointed as assistant commandant in the Coast Guard in 2009 and soon after her induction, the assistant commandant woman (general duty) short service recruitment rules were published in November 2009 that mentioned “women officers shall not have the option to change over to permanent entry scheme.” Her petition seeking permanent absorption in the Coast Guard is already pending in the Delhi high court but she moved the top court against an interim HC order refusing to stay her release.

Tyagi was part of the first-ever all-women crew on Dornier aircraft in 2016 deployed in the eastern region for undertaking maritime patrolling as captain of the aircraft. She completed 13 months of flying training to qualify as a navigator. The petitioner has 4,500 flying hours on Dornier aircraft, the highest flying hours among male and female officers as per her seniority across all forces, and she has heroically saved over 300 lives at sea,” her petition in the top court said.

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