New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Centre to grant permanent commission to all women officers in the Army within three months and said there will not be any absolute bar on giving them command postings.
A bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud rejected the Centre's argument of physiological limitations and social norms for denying them permanent commission and command postings, saying it is disturbing and against the concept of equality.
The bench said women officers in the past have brought laurels to the country and change of mindset is required on the part of the government to put an end to gender bias in armed forces.
The top court said despite there being no stay on the 2010 Delhi High Court verdict allowing grant of permanent commission to women officers, the Centre showed scant regard in implementing the directive in past one decade.
It will apply to any woman officer who opt for it, and on all those within the period of 14 years of service and beyond.
Till September 2019, permanent commission in the Army for women was restricted to the departments of the Army Education Corps and the Judge Advocate General branch. In September that year, the Central government ordered that permanent commission option would be open to women in 10 other departments based on command assignments. This would require the officer to be experienced in commanding field units.
The women petitioners, who joined the Army via Short-Service Commission, were granted an initial extension of five years after serving five mandatory years. This was then increased by four more years, without a policy. The women officers would have to retire after 14 years of service, with lesser benefits than their male counterparts.
Last week, the Centre had told the Supreme Court that women were not suitable for command posts in the Army as male troops were "not yet prepared" to accept women officers. “The composition of rank and file being male, and predominantly drawn from rural background, with prevailing societal norms, the troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command,” the Centre said in an affidavit.
In its verdict, the Supreme Court noted that the arguments presented by the Centre were "contrary to its own policy" of 2019 on extending permanent commission options for women. It observed that the Centre's arguments for opposing permanent commission roles by citing physiological features perpetuated "gender stereotypes".
The Supreme Court was quoted by Live Law as saying, "It is an insult to women as well as the Army when aspersions are cast on women, their ability and their achievements in the Army."
The Supreme Court also chastised the Centre for not implementing a judgment of the Delhi High Court in 2010 that held that women officers, who are under Short-Service Commission, should be granted permanent commission on par with male counterparts.
The Supreme Court ruled permanent commission should be granted to women in the Army in all roles, except combat operations. "Considering the Delhi HC judgment, Union had the obligation to grant female officers permanent commission," the Supreme Court was quoted as saying by Live Law.
(With inputs from The Week)