Ministry Of Defence Withdraws Appeal From SC Against Promotion And Benefits To Short Service And Women Officers

Ministry Of Defence Withdraws Appeal From SC Against Promotion And Benefits To Short Service And Women Officers

In a major relief to more than 150 women Army officers, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has withdrawn its appeal from the Supreme Court on the issue of denial of promotions and benefits to Short Service and Women Commissioned Officers commissioned before 2006. The decision was approved by Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman last week and the appeal was withdrawn on Monday.

The Government had, in 2004, accepted the promotions of army officers at 2, 6 and 13 years of service to the ranks of Captain, Major and Lt Col respectively, implementing the recommendations of the Ajai Vikram Singh Committee. Though the promotions were made applicable to all commissioned officers, the benefit was later withheld from Short Service and Women Officers due to an internal interpretation by the Army’s Military Secretary’s (MS) Branch. The benefits were not extended despite a gazette notification by the MoD extending the same to all affected officers, even though no such problem was faced in the Navy and the Air Force.

However, in 2006, when the Short Service Scheme was changed from 5+5+4 years system to 10+4 years system, the benefit was duly extended to those officers who opted for the new scheme, resulting in a sharp disparity wherein senior officers were being retired as substantive Lieutenants and Captains while their juniors were reaching the rank of Lt Col.

This was set aside by the Armed Forces Tribunal in March, 2012. The Bench comprising Justice A.K. Mathur (Chairperson) and Lt. Gen. S.S. Dhillon (Member) had ruled, "Therefore in our opinion all the persons inducted as Short Service Commissioned officer are to be given substantive rank as given to the Permanent Commissioned Officer... Hence, petition is allowed and respondents are directed to grant substantive rank to the petitioner and to the other similarly situated persons as given to the Permanent Commissioned Officer by virtue of this order so as to avoid flood of litigations by filing separate petitions before a Tribunal or before other Courts."

This decision had been challenged before the Supreme Court by the Army as well as the MoD. A Committee of Experts for reducing litigation constituted by the then Raksha Mantri in 2015 had however come down heavily upon the establishment for filing an appeal. It had then said, “It is not understood as to why beneficial policies are viewed with a pessimistic eye so as to identify or even create prohibitory stipulations or even file appeals when the issue is suitably addressed by judicial intervention”.

Asserting that the appeal seemed more like a "prestige issue", the panel had asked for its withdrawal observing that the "anomaly was due to a self-created negative interpretation even when the scheme had been approved for all officers by the Cabinet".