Form policy on women officers’ promotion: SC | Latest News India
The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Indian Army to finalise the policy for considering the promotion of women officers from the rank of colonel to brigadier, after it was told that deliberations are underway to formulate a policy to deal with the issue of the officers’ career progression.
Supreme Court (PTI)
A bench comprising Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra took note of the submissions of Attorney General R Venkataramani and senior advocate R Balasubramanian that the Army is working on formulating a policy for the purpose.
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Posting the matter for hearing in the first week of April, CJI said: “We will give you (Army) time for bringing the policy. We would expect the formulation of policy by March 31, 2024.”
Some women Army officers have alleged discrimination in promotion from the rank of colonel to brigadier. In a landmark verdict on February 17, 2020, the top court had ordered permanent commission for women officers in the Army, rejecting the Centre’s stand on their “physiological limitations” as being based on “sex stereotypes” and calling it “gender discrimination against women”.
The apex court had directed that all serving Short Service Commission (SSC) women officers have to be considered for permanent commission irrespective of them having completed 14 years or, as the case may be, 20 years of service within three months.
Later, in another major verdict on March 17, 2020, the top court had paved the way for granting permanent commission to women officers in the Indian Navy, saying a level playing field ensures that women have the opportunity to overcome “histories of discrimination”.
According to AG, an officer must meet the “essential eligibility criteria” of minimum 2 confidential reports (CR) in Colonel Select rank. “Any deviation from this fundamental eligibility criteria will amount to compromising with the operational requirement of the Indian Army,” he said.
He further informed the Court that to earn the rank of Brigadier, an officer in the Army is required to experience operational command of a unit or battalion for a period of 18 to 24 months (about 2 years). It is by gaining the experience, technical qualification and service knowledge as commanding officer of unit that helps officers to understand the “intricacies, nuances and complexities” of command, Venkataramani said.
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At the same time, the applicant lady officers, represented by advocate Archana Pathak Dave, informed the Court that the women have fought a long drawn battle in Courts to get their due, beginning with the 2020 decision of the top court allowing permanent commission to short service commission women, thus opening command roles to women in the Army. Later in 2021, through yet another significant decision, the Court found the yardstick adopted by Army to grant PC to women as being “discriminatory” vis-a-vis male officers. Dave said that the applicants only seek a policy to be put in place for governing promotions by SB 2.
AG said that all policies of the Army are “gender-neutral” and the applicants before the Court should not push the matter beyond a certain point. He said that maximum possible waivers were granted by the Army for the women officers as the special board 3 which met thrice this year for promotion of women officers to the rank of Colonel, has empaneled 120 women officers till date. Most of the women officers before the court did not meet the eligibility criteria for Brigadier with command positions given to them after June this year.
The bench, also comprising justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra told AG, “That is all because we pushed the envelope. We nudged you, otherwise nothing would have happened.” The Court told Venkataramani that the Army had shown resistance by citing operational efficiency as a ground to justify denial of permanent commission to women.
“It is not your case that operational preparedness of Army has been affected in any manner with women coming in,” the bench added.
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While the problem raised by the applicant women officers pertain to the pre-2005 batch, the Army expressed its apprehensions that making an exception for the set of women officers before the Court could have long-term consequences.
In a note submitted to Court, AG said, “The experience of performing in Colonel’s rank is utmost essential to gauge any officer’s fitness for higher appointment. Any exception to this will have ramifications on the quality of leadership in the Indian Army along with opening avenues for many others who are deficient of command criteria to seek similar treatment.”
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