Command appointments’ denial retrograde step, women officers to SC

New Delhi, Feb 7

Women officers have proven their mettle and courage under fire for nearly three decades, and there has never been an occasion of soldiers/men having refused or accepted their command, said the women officers in a written submission, blaming the Centre for delay in bringing the policy for grant of permanent commission to them.

The written submissions on behalf of the petitioners, filed by senior advocate Ashwarya Bhati, said: “The demonstrated fact is that the women officers have been serving in the 10 combat support arms, for the last 27-28 years and have proven their mettle and courage under fire.. To deny them command appointments would be an extremely retrograde step and will inflict irreparable injury to the dignity of these brave women.”

A bench, headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and comprising Justice Ajay Rastogi, conducted the hearing on petitions seeking permanent commission for women in the Army. The apex court has reserved its order on the matter.

Moreover, the petitioners said that they have been found suitable by the organisation itself and have led platoons and companies of soldiers and men, both in peace locations as also hostile locations/operations, in the 10 combat support arms. “There has never been any occasion of soldiers/men having refused or not accepted the command of women on account of their perceived ‘rural background, with prevailing societal norms’,” said the submission.

The Centre had informed the apex court that “motherhood, childcare, psychological limitations” are vital factors, which have a bearing on employment of women officers in the Army. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had argued that lower physical standards of women, and composition of units that are entirely male, mostly from rural background, impact commander appointments.

At this, Justice Chandrachud replied that a combat role comprises only a fraction of the role in the military where women have not been inducted, if it were to be assumed they were not fit for this role. Mehta argued that different physical standards were a reality in a combat situation, and also there is a danger if women were taken as prisoners of war.

The petitioners countered this stating this stand of the Centre with regard to national security and operational effectiveness, battlefield scenario, capture by the enemy, command appointments and infrastructure are misconceived and based on misleading and erroneous basis.

The submission said: “Women Officers have been working shoulder to shoulder, with their colleagues in the Indian Army. Even as Short Service Commissioned Women Officers (SSCWOs), they have been working as company commanders and leading the soldiers from the front as per the ethos of the Indian Army.”

The women officers contended as young officers in the rank of captains and majors, they have been in hostile and combat zone and have displayed exemplary courage and bravery, acting exactly in the manner commensurate with the respect that Indian Army commands the world over.

For 10 long years, the Centre has delayed bringing the policy for grant of permanent commission to women officers, despite the Delhi High Court verdict in March 2010, as a consequence, the policy for grant of permanent commission in the army is yet to be made functional and operative, they said.

The Centre had appealed the High Court order holding that SSCWOs of the Army are entitled to permanent commission at par with Gentlemen SSCOs with all consequential benefits. The High Court had also directed that the benefit would be conferred to the serving women officers, as on the date of the order, and also women officers, who retired during the pendency of their writ petition, would get all consequential benefits, including promotion, at par with Gentlemen SSCOs.

The ‘criteria appointments’ are important appointments in the Army organisational setup and to confine women officers to ‘staff appointments only’, would effectively render them second grade officers in the Indian Army, the petitioners said.

“It is submitted that no such confinement of women officers to staff appointments only, has ever been contemplated or notified in any of the advertisements or policy decisions since 1992, when women were first inducted in the Indian Army. As SSCWOs, women have been entitled to ‘staff appointments’ as also ‘criteria appointments’ all along”, said the submission.

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