Top court asks Army to reconsider denial of PC to exemplary women officers
The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre and the Indian Army to consider the case of five Army women short service commission officers who were denied permanent commission as they were assessed from 1999-2005 based on an assessment system that relied on an annual confidential report (ACR) due to which they failed to get over 60% marks, the threshold fixed by the Supreme Court in March for grant of permanent commission (PC).
The officers in question approached the top court complaining against the unit assessment card (UAC) assessment system that prevailed till 2005. This system was discontinued by the Army in September 2005 and replaced by ACR-based assessment policy for grant of PC. However, their plea to be considered for PC was rejected by the Delhi High Court on September 17 against which the officers had filed appeals. They were discharged from the Army in July.
Senior advocates Huzefa Ahmadi and V Mohana appeared for the officers and sought to challenge the denial of PC on the faulty UAC system and the failure of Army to consider their exceptional achievements beyond the stipulated ACRs of the fifth and tenth year of service. “If the UAC assessment marks are eschewed, these officers will get far above 60% marks required by them to get PC,” Ahmadi said while Mohana pointed out that the Court’s March 25 judgment specifically named two of the petitioners - Gopika Bhati and Sonali Singh, for their exemplary achievements and suggested their entire track record be taken into consideration for grant of PC.
Bhati was the only officer to receive GOC-in-C commendation card for rendering emergency duties in Northern Command Sector and was part of Operation Parakram and Operation Vijay, besides being a national level squash and tennis player. For Sonali Singh, the judgment noted that she was the first woman officer to be convoy commander for Pathankot to Leh in 1999 and was the first woman to be the officer in-charge of Ammunition Dump, Amritsar during Operation Parakram.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Sanjay Jain and senior advocate R Balasubramanian were present in Court representing the Centre and Army. “We have gone as per the Court’s decision. The direction was to review the method of evaluation for future batches. If a better system has replaced an old one that does not mean that the old system is condemned.” Further, he argued that any concession will mean dipping the merit below 60% marks.
The bench of Justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and BV Nagarathna told the Centre to have a considerate view as the matter involved a small group of officers affected by UAC system. “These are officers who have made achievements. This cannot be ignored. You must add up their achievements while computing 60%. If there are vigilance and discipline grounds on which they have been rejected, we would be the last to interfere,” the judges observed.
Both Jain and Balasubramanian sought time to confer with the authorities and proposed to get back by November 12, the next date for hearing the matter.
Recently, the Court had directed the Army to reconsider the case of 72 women short service commission officers in the Army who were denied PC. On a nudge by the Court, Army reconsidered the list and agreed to grant PC to 39 officers. The Court had appreciated the Army for its fair stand even as it called for reasons for refusing PC to the remaining officers. This matter too is listed for November 12.