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'Where Do We Draw The Line?': SC Dismisses Plea By Women Officers Completing 14 years In Service After Cut-Off Date For Extension Of Commission

Sanya Talwar
3 Sep 2020 7:38 AM GMT
Where Do We Draw The Line?: SC Dismisses Plea By Women Officers Completing 14 years In Service After Cut-Off Date For Extension Of Commission

The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a plea filed by women officers who completed 14 years in service after the cut-off date applicable in the judgment dated February 17 directing that Permanent Commission should be granted to women in army regardless of their service, in all the ten streams.

A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, KM Joseph & Indu Malhotra observed that to allow the plea for a batch of officers who had completed 14 years in March 2020 for acquiring eligibility to avail permanent commission and other benefits would have serious implications.

"It will have serious implications. Every batch will be completing 14 years. Our Judgment said those who had completed 14 years of service as on the date of the judgment will get pension and Permanent Commission benefits. The cut off is the date of the Judgment. If we modify it we will have to modify for successive batches," the bench remarked.

Senior Advocate Meenakshi Lekhi who appeared for the officers argued the SC judgement came on 17 Feb. These women officers completed 14 years in March. They should get the benefit because government started implementing the orders only in July.

Adv. Col. Balasubramaniam who appeared for the Defence Ministry opposed this prayer. "On July 16, when government passed the orders relating to Permanent Commission, all those who had completed 14 years in service as on 17 February will get pension. If you allow open ended then it will become unimplementable for the government. Every six months a batch gets commission. We cannot allowed them to get benefit like this," he added.

While dismissing the plea, Justice Chandrachud observed that even though it is difficult to address these matters as they are with respect to service of the nation, there is a need to draw the line.

"This plea effectively amounts to a review of the 17 Feb judgement. We are not inclined to allow the application" - Supreme Court

It is significant to note that the Army had set August 31 as the deadline for short-service commissioned (SSC) women officers to submit their applications for permanent commission.

The Army had set the deadline after the Centre on July 23, issued a formal sanction for granting the permanent commission following the verdict delivered by the apex court on February 17 in this regard.

On February 2020, the top court had upheld the Delhi High Court order on giving command positions to women officers and had criticised the Centre for failing to implement the judgment of the Delhi HC which had held that women SSC officers should be granted permanent Commission at par with male counterparts.

The Court also held that absolute exclusion of women from command assignments is against Article 14 of the Constitution and unjustified. Therefore, the policy that women will be given only "staff appointments" was held to be unenforceable by the Court.

Reading out the judgment, Justice D Y Chandrachud slammed the arguments made by the Centre in their written notes which had cited the physiological features and domestic obligations of women as reasons for denying them command appointments.

The bench observed that these arguments perpetuate "gender stereotypes".

The Court had added that change of mindset is required on part of government to put to end gender discrimination in armed force.

The SC had also criticised the 2019 policy formulated by the Ministry of Defence, whereby permanent commission was allowed in certain fields to certain classes of women based on their years of service. This policy had excluded women officers who had put in more than 14 years of service.

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