Context: The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has recently issued the formal Government Sanction Letter for grant of Permanent Commission (PC) to women officers in the Army.

More on the news:

  • The Indian Army had already set in motion a series of preparatory actions for the conduct of the Permanent Commission Selection Board for affected women officers. 
  • The associated Selection Board will be scheduled as soon as all affected Short Service Commissioned (SSC) women officers exercise their option and complete requisite documentation.
  • The order specifies the grant of Permanent Commission (PC) to Short Service Commissioned (SSC) women officers in all the 10 streams of the Army in which they presently serve.

 Supreme Court verdict in February,2020 

  • It directed the government that women Army officers be granted PC and command postings in all services other than combat.
  • The court said the “101 excuses” devised by the government to deter women from being on a par with men, including motherhood and physiological limitations, reeks of a stereotypical mindset.
  • The battle for gender equality is about confronting the battles of the mind. 
  • The Supreme Court at that time ordered the government to implement its decision in three months. 

The central government’s take on Granting Command Posts:

  • Physiological limitations: The Central Government has asserted the “physiological limitations” of women officers and changed the battlefield scenario as the primary reasons for not granting the command posts for women in the Army.
  • Societal norms: The troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command of units, the composition of rank and file being male predominantly drawn from the rural background with prevailing societal norms.
  • Physical standards: Officers have to lead from the front. They should be in prime physical condition to undertake combat tasks. 
    • Inherent physiological differences between men and women preclude equal physical performance resulting in lower physical standards.
    • The physical capacity of women officers in the Indian Army remains a challenge for command of units.
  • Other challenges: Apart from lower physical standards of women officers compared to men, other challenges include prolonged absence due to pregnancy, children’s education, husband’s career prospects, etc.

Background  Supreme Court verdict in February,2020 

  • In Annie Nagaraja & connected cases, the Supreme Court was considering the appeals filed by the Union Ministry against a judgment delivered by the Delhi High Court in 2015.
  • 1991: Women were not inducted in the navy till 1991. With the issuance of notification of 1991, first-time women were inducted in the navy under the provision of Navy act section 9(2).
    • However, women were allowed only in four branches: logistics, Law, ATC and Education.
  • The ministry stated that it would lay down the guidelines to induct women which was not done till 2008.
  • 2008: The government decided to grant permanent commission to women in the navy but only to prospective women officers. This excluded other women officers already in the services.
    • As per the 2008 policy where ministry took the decision to induct women in all three forces. It was done only for some restricted posts and ATC was also excluded.
  • As per Regulation 203 of Chapter IX of the Indian Navy Act, 1957  there is no restriction to the grant of permanent commission either gender-wise or category wise
  • Delhi HC 2015 ruling: Delhi HC ruling stated that this discrimination of not allowing serving women officers for permanent commission was arbitrary and irrational.
  • Grievance raised by Short Service Commission Officers
    • The grievance raised was that after having completed 14 years of service as Short Service Commission Officers, they were not granted Permanent Commission.
    • SSC women officers in the navy serve for 10 years and with permanent commission women officers are entitled to serve for 14 years.

Union of India vs Ld Cdr Annie Nagaraja and others case:

  • Landmark verdict on gender equality: The Supreme court stated that male and female officers should be treated equally in granting permanent commission once the statutory bar was lifted to allow entry of women officers.
  • No discrimination against women: SC scrapped the statutory bar on giving permanent commission to women. Women can sail with the same efficiency as male officers.
    • The Supreme Court also rejected the Centre’s argument that its Russian vessels do not have washrooms for women and that is why the Short Service Commission(SSC) women can not be granted permission to sail.
  • The Supreme Court has also directed the center to implement the directives within three months. 
    • It also granted pension benefits to retired women officers who were not granted permanent commission.
    • Applications of servicing officers for the Permanent Commission shall be considered on the basis of the availability of vacancies.

Significance of the Judgement: 

  • Equal physiologically: Women officers of the Indian Army have brought laurels to the force. Keeping their track record in mind their service to the nation can never be denied and it is beyond reproach.
  • Everyone serving in the Army is an equal citizen: To cast aspersion on the abilities of women on the ground of gender is an affront.
  • Dignity of women: It is disrespecting not only their dignity as women but the dignity of the members of the Indian Army men and women both as they both serve as equal citizens in a common mission.
  • Demolished gender stereotypes: Women officers in the Army are not adjuncts to a male-dominated establishment.
  • Violation of Equality under the law: The Supreme Court also dismissed the government's stand that only women officers with less than 14 years of service ought to be considered for permanent commission, and those with over 20 years of service should be pensioned immediately. 


Image Source: TH