19th February – Permanent Commission for women in Army

The Supreme Court has brought women officers in 10 streams of the Army on par with their male counterparts in all respects, setting aside longstanding objections of the government.

Context –

The case was first filed in the Delhi High Court by women officers in 2003, and had received a favourable order in 2010. But the order was never implemented, and was challenged in the Supreme Court by the government.

Background –

  • The induction of women officers in the Army started in 1992. They were commissioned for a period of five years in certain chosen streams such as Army Education Corps, Corps of Signals, Intelligence Corps, and Corps of Engineers.
  • Recruits under the Women Special Entry Scheme (WSES) had a shorter pre-commission training period than their male counterparts who were commissioned under the Short Service Commission (SSC) scheme.
  • In 2006, the WSES scheme was replaced with the SSC scheme, which was extended to women officers. They were commissioned for a period of 10 years, extendable up to 14 years. 
  • Serving WSES officers were given the option to move to the new SSC scheme, or to continue under the erstwhile WSES. They were to be however, restricted to roles in streams specified earlier — which excluded combat arms such as infantry and armoured corps.
  • While male SSC officers could opt for permanent commission at the end of 10 years of service, this option was not available to women officers. They were, thus, kept out of any command appointment, and could not qualify for government pension, which starts only after 20 years of service as an officer. The first batch of women officers under the new scheme entered the Army in 2008.

The battle in the courts / judicial intervention –

  • In 2003, a PIL was filed before the Delhi High Court for grant of permanent commission (PC) to women SSC officers in the Army. Another writ petition was filed in 2006, primarily to challenge the terms and conditions of service imposed by circulars earlier that year, and to seek PC for women officers.
  • In September 2008, the Defence Ministry passed an order saying PC would be granted prospectively to SSC women officers in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) department and the Army Education Corps (AEC). This circular was challenged before the Delhi High Court on the ground that it granted PC only prospectively, and only in certain specified streams.
  • The High Court heard the 2003, 2006, and 2008 challenges together, and passed its judgment in 2010. Women officers of the Air Force and Army on SSC who had sought permanent commission but were not granted that status, would be entitled to PC at par with male SSC officers, it ruled.

The current Supreme Court order –

  • The SC has done away with all discrimination on the basis of years of service for grant of PC in 10 streams of combat support arms and services, bringing them on a par with male officers. It has also removed the restriction of women officers only being allowed to serve in staff appointments, which is the most significant and far-reaching aspect of the judgment.
  • It means that women officers will be eligible to tenant all the command appointments, at par with male officers, which would open avenues for further promotions to higher ranks for them: if women officers had served only in staff, they would not have gone beyond the rank of Colonel.
  • It also means that in junior ranks and career courses, women officers would be attending the same training courses and tenanting critical appointments, which are necessary for higher promotions.

SourceThe Indian Express

QUESTIONWhat are the implications of the Supreme Court’s order granting permanent commission to women on a par with men?

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