5 months after SC verdict, Defence Ministry issues order granting Permanent Commission to women

Five months after the Supreme Court ruled that Short Service Commissioned (SSC) women officers in the Indian Army are entitled to permanent commission (PC), the Defence Ministry on Thursday issued a formal sanction letter for granting PC to them, opening doors for women in a male-dominated force.

The order will pave the way for “empowering women officers to shoulder larger roles in the organisation,” an army spokesperson said. A selection board will assemble soon to pick women for PC.

The order specifies grant of PC to SSC women officers in 10 streams — Army Air Defence (AAD), Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME), Army Service Corps (ASC), Army Ordnance Corps (AOC), and Intelligence Corps in addition to the existing streams of Judge and Advocate General (JAG) and Army Educational Corps (AEC).

“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.

“It is wonderful to finally see this. I am elated,” said senior counsel Aishwarya Bhati, who had appeared for petitioners in Supreme Court.

The army is committed to provide equal opportunities to all personnel including women officers to serve the country, the statement added.

“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 Wing Commander Anupama Joshi (retd), from the first batch of women officers commissioned into the IAF in the early 1990s. She said the army should allow women in combat roles too.

The SC on February 17 ruled that SSC women officers in the army are entitled to PC and they have to be considered irrespective of their service length.

The policy of the Centre in this regard to restrict PC to SSC women officers with less than 14 years of service was held to be violative of the Right to Equality by the apex court. It also held that there cannot be an absolute bar on women being considered for command appointments.

The judgement was delivered on a petition by the defence ministry challenging a 2010 judgment of the Delhi high court which had ruled that SSC women officers in the army and air force should be granted PC at par with male SSC officers.

The central government had issued a notification in this regard in February 2019 granting PC 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 for PC.

The Centre got a one-month extension on July 7 to implement the SC’s path-breaking decision to grant PC to women officers. Citing the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown, the Centre moved an application before the apex court to extend the deadline by another six months.

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