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SC Warns Defence Ministry After Women Officers Allege Discrimination In Promotion

The Supreme Court on Wednesday called out the Defence Ministry over allegations of discrimination and unfair treatment with regard to promotion for women army officers who were granted commissions after its historic “Babita Puniya” judgement.

A bench comprised of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice JB Pardiwala was hearing allegations by women officers who claimed that various arbitrary and discriminatory policies were adopted by the Indian Army while considering them for promotion.

The application was filed citing Lt. Col. Notisha v. Union of India in March 2021, when a bench headed by Justice Chandrachud (as he was then) noted that the criteria for granting permanent commissions for women officers, although they seemed neutral, were indirectly discriminatory.

According to the Supreme Court’s ruling in The Secretary, Minister of Defence V. Babita Puniya (2020), the Indian Army’s former policy of excluding women from permanent commissions is unconstitutional. The evaluation criteria were deemed arbitrary and irrational, and a fresh set of directors was called for. As a result, the applications of women short-service commission officers were now to be considered.

SC On Discrimination Of Women In Army

Despite such progressive judgements, in the past, women army officers have had to approach the top court with allegations of discrimination and institutional resistance.

Senior Advocate V Mohana informed the SC that women officers were unable to reap the benefits of such decisions despite keeping the doors open for women officers to be granted command appointments.

It was alleged that the Indian army had neither held selection boards for the promotion of women officers nor taken any steps to comply with the SC ruling. A senior advocate said that junior male officers were promoted over their senior female counterparts.

After the SC expressed concern over women officers being discriminated against and warned the defence ministry that it would pass peremptory orders to ensure their promotion, the Indian army finally agreed to conduct a special selection board for its women officers.

According to the selection board, 246 women officers submitted applications in January 2023. Yet again, the SC was told that fresh barriers came up prohibiting women from being promoted or being granted command postings. They included the selection board’s refusal to consider the latest annual confidential reports (ACR) and performance evaluation reports of the women officers, deliberately assigning female officers who have been promoted to lead contingents to positions that are usually led by officers of junior rank.

Considering the facts, the SC ordered that the overall service profiles of the women officers be considered; they were pegged at the ACRs for 2011, which was when the corresponding male officers in the batch were considered for promotion. The chief justice also orally told the additional solicitor general, KM Natarj,

“We are putting you on notice. If this is not rectified, we will have to come down heavily on you. Because it appears ex facie that there has been an attempt to go around our order. We will now take it very seriously. Tell the authority at the highest level. We want this to be rectified. Next day, if you tell us a different thing, we will have to issue a notice of contempt. Now, we are giving you a last opportunity to set your house in order. Otherwise, we are going to haul you up.”

Suggested Reading: Women Army Officers Still Not Promoted Despite Eligibility, SC issues Notice To Centre


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