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SC dismisses permanent commission plea by women officers with 14 yrs of service for applying late

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court today dismissed a plea by women army officers who completed their 14 years of service after the applicable cut-off date for applying for permanent commission.

A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and K.M. Joseph were not inclined to allow the application as the plea effectively amounted to a review of the February 17 judgment of the court.

During the hearing, Senior Advocate Meenakshi Lekhi, on behalf of the women officers, noted that the petitioner officers completed their 14 years in March 2020, and the court order was given on February 17. Since the government started implementing the order only in July, these women should get the benefit.

Adv. Col. Balasubramaniam, on behalf of the Defence Ministry, didn’t agree with Lekhi’s submission and stated that the government passed an order on July 16 only for those women officers who had completed their 14 years of service on February 17, the date of the apex court’s order. If it is made open ended, the government won’t be able to implement it.

The Court observed that the cut off date cannot be modified as that would 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 noted.

Justice Joseph agreed with Justice Chandrachud saying that it will have serious implications as every batch will be completing 14 years.

Justice Chandrachud also observed that it’s difficult to address these matters because they are all in service of the nation. While the Court feels that it should be able to do something for them, there’s also the need to draw a line.

The court suggested the petitioner counsel that they should withdraw this application and wait for the board to consider their application for permanent commission. The court wasn’t inclined to allow the application as it effectively amounted to review of their judgement.

The Supreme court on February 17 had directed the Indian Army to grant Permanent Commission to women officers who want to be considered for the same, while observing that excluding women completely from command appointments and allowing them in staff appointments only is against Right to equality under Article 14 and is unjustified. It was held that an absolute bar in command appointments doesn’t favour the right of equality, and is outright discriminatory.

The court had further observed that if stereotypes regarding men being the bread earners, being stronger than women, etc continue then such thinking will never go away.

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The court had said:

“If there is a will and a change in mindset on the part of the government, then women officers could be allocated command posts in the Army,” adding that “there are several other services where women could be included, such as combat operations.”

The Central Government on July 23 had issued a formal sanction to grant PC to women officers and the Army had set August 31 as deadline for women officers in Short Service Commission apply for permanent commission.

-India Legal Bureau

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