In a landmark ruling, the Delhi High Court Friday asked the government to treat women and men officers in the army and air force at par while granting Permanent Commission, saying “greater sensitivity was required” while dealing with gender issues.
A division bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M.C. Garg also ordered the reinstatement of all women Short Service Commission officers who had to retire after being refused Permanent Commission.
Short Service Commission officers, be they men or women, serve for a maximum of 14 years while male officers granted Permanent Commission can serve up to the age of 60, depending on the rank they rise to.
Women are now eligible for Permanent Commission only in the medical, nursing and dental services of the armed forces. They get to serve for a shorter duration in non-combat or support arms of the armed forces.
Friday’s order came on a petition by over 50 women officers of the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force (IAF) who were denied Permanent Commission though they wanted to don the uniform for the rest of their working life.
The verdict, coming three days after the Rajya Sabha passed a bill reserving a third of all seats in legislatures for women, sparked a wave of joy among women who felt disciminated at the military’s hands.
An elated Rekha Pali, counsel for the women officers, cried: “It’s a big victory for all of us!”
Women officers hailed the decision.
Wing Commander Rekha Aggrawal, who served in the IAF from 1995 to 2009, said: “I am very glad now. I will again join the office. I want to serve my nation.”
“Our three-year-long battle has finally become fruitful. The court has finally understood the disparity that women officers in the army face,” Major Seema Singh added.
However, the IAF and the Indian Army said it would be well night impossible to reinstate the retired women officers.
“Firstly, there are no vacancies. Secondly, this would create cadre management problems. Thirdly, there are sound arguments on the basis of which an appeal can be filed,” an IAF officer said, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media on the issued.
Indian Army officers IANS spoke to reacted in similar vein.
The court said its ruling was applicable only to women recruited in the IAF and the Indian Army before 2006, when the Short Service Commission tenure went up from 10 to 14 years.
“The Permanent Commission shall be offered to them after completion of five years (of service). They would also be entitled to all consequential benefits such as promotion and other financial benefits,” it said.
The court said women officers who had not attained the age of retirement available for Permanent Commissioned officers will “be reinstated in service and shall be granted all consequential benefits including promotion … except for the pay and allowance for the period they have not been in service”.
But the court said it was not interfering with the “policy decision” to bar women from the combat wings.
The court noted that a Permanent Commission comes with certain privileges including pension. It said the women who felt discriminated “deserved better” from the government.
“There is no reason why these persons who have knocked the door of the court should be deprived of their benefit and the benefit extended only in future for grant of Permanent Commission to women.”
Currently, 5,137 women officers serve in the armed forces. They include 4,101 in the Indian Army, 784 in IAF, and 252 in Indian Navy. This includes women granted Permanent Commission in the Army Medical Corps, the Army Dental Corps and their equivalents in the other two services as also in the Military Nursing Service.
In the army, women serve in support arms like the Corps of Signals, Army Ordinance Corps, the Corps of Electronic and Mechanical Engineers, and the Army Service Corps.
In the Indian Air Force, women are inducted in all streams barring the fighter stream. In the Indian Navy there are restrictions on posting women officers aboard ships and submarines.