Permanent commission for women in army approved
Five months after the Supreme Court ruled that women officers, who have joined the Indian Army through Short Service Commission (SSC), are entitled to a permanent commission, the defence ministry on Thursday issued a formal sanction letter in this regard. The order will pave the way for “empowering women officers to shoulder larger roles in the organisation”, an army spokesperson said.
“In anticipation, the Army Headquarters had set in motion a series of preparatory actions for conduct of the Permanent Commission Selection Board for affected women officers,” the army said in statement. The board will be scheduled as soon as the SSC women officers exercise their option and complete the requisite documentation. The statement said the army is committed to providing equal opportunities to all personnel including women officers to serve the country.
The Supreme Court in February ruled that women should be considered for command roles and that all women officers are entitled to permanent commission. It asked the army to give them permanent commission within three months in a major boost to gender parity.
The Centre got a one-month extension on July 7 to implement the Supreme Court’s verdict after it moved an application before the apex court seeking the extension of the deadline by another six months citing the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown imposed to check its spread from March 25.
The army, in May, made the Battle Physical Efficiency Test (BPET) mandatory for all women officers including those commissioned before 2009 and over the age of 35 (these officers were previously exempt). In March, it made a junior command course at Army War College, Mhow mandatory for women officers. There are around 600 women officers eligible for permanent commission, and a third of them are over the age of 40. Both moves have come in for criticism for women officers who have pointed to their timing -- after the SC’s verdict.
The Supreme Court’s judgment was hailed for creating a new equality paradigm in the armed forces. It upheld a 2010 Delhi high court verdict. The Supreme Court ruled that women officers, who joined the Indian Army through SSC, are entitled to permanent commission even if they have more than 14 years of service. It also held that there cannot be an “absolute bar” on women officers being considered for command appointments, paving the way for their elevation to such roles. The case before the Supreme Court was only about permanent commission and command roles in the army’s non-combat streams.
The defence ministry’s sanction specifies grant of permanent commission to SSC women officers in 10 streams--Army Air Defence, Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers, Army Service Corps, Army Ordnance Corps, and Intelligence Corps in addition to the existing streams of Judge and Advocate General and Army Educational Corps.
Advocate Aishwarya Bhati, who represented women officers in the Supreme Court, said it was wonderful to finally see the defence ministry’s sanction. “I am elated,” said Bhati.
Wing Commander Anupama Joshi (retd), who is from the first batch of women officers commissioned into the Indian Air Force (IAF) in the 1990s, said the government should be lauded over the defence ministry’s move. “As they say ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’ The government needs to be lauded for this leap. The equity has been achieved. However, equality still remains a goal to strive for,” said Joshi. She said the army should allow women in combat roles too.
The Supreme Court in February ruled the army’s SSC women officers are entitled to permanent commission and they have to be considered for it irrespective of their service length. It held the Centre’s policy of restricting the permanent commission to SSC women officers with less than 14-year service as violative of the right to equality.
The judgement was delivered on defence ministry’s petition challenging the 2010 Delhi high court verdict that ruled that SSC women officers in the army and IAF should be granted permanent commission on par with male SSC officers.
The Centre issued a notification in February 2019 granting permanent commission to SSC officers of the army. However, as per its proposal, only SSC women officers with up to 14 years of service were to be considered.