Five months after the Supreme Court called for a “change in mindsets” regarding women officers of the Indian Army, the government on Thursday issued an order for permanent commission of women officers in the force, the Army said.
Army Spokesperson Col Aman Anand said the order “paved the way for empowering of women officers to shoulder larger roles in the Army”. “The order specifies grant of permanent commission to Short Service Commissioned (SSC) women officers in all 10 streams of the Indian Army,” he added.
The spokesperson said the 10 streams where a permanent commission of women officers were being made available include army air defence, signals, engineers, army aviation, electronics and mechanical engineers, army service corps and Intelligence corps in addition to the existing streams of judge and advocate general and army educational corps.
“Their selection board will be scheduled as soon as all affected SSC women officers exercise their option and complete requisite documentation,” he added.
While male SSC officers could opt for permanent commission at the end of 10 years of service, this option was not available to women officers. They were, thus, kept out of any command appointment, and could not qualify for government pension, which starts only after 20 years of service as an officer.
Last year, the defence ministry had taken an in-principle decision to allow permanent commissioning of women in streams like signals, engineering, army aviation, army air defence and electronics and mechanical. It was decided that the SSC women officers will be considered for grant of permanent commission based on the availability of vacancies and subject to willingness, suitability, performance, medical fitness and competitive merit of the aspirants.
On February 17, the Supreme Court directed that women officers of the Indian Army, serving under Short Service Commission, be considered for grant of a Permanent Commission, irrespective of tenure of service, and also for command posts in non-combat areas since “an absolute bar on women seeking criteria or command appointments would not comport with the guarantee of equality under Article 14”.
Referring to the stellar roles of women officers, the bench said “to cast aspersion on their abilities on the ground of gender is an affront not only to their dignity as women but to the dignity of the members of the Indian Army — men and women — who serve as equal citizens in a common mission”.
The case was first filed in the Delhi High Court by women officers in 2003, and had received a favourable order in 2010. But the order was never implemented and was challenged in the Supreme Court by the government.
On July 7, the top court gave the Centre one more month to implement its direction. Allowing the extra time, a bench headed by Justices D Y Chandrachud said the Centre must ensure complete compliance with its directions.
In March, the SC cleared way for permanent commission to women in Indian Navy, saying “the battle for gender equality is about confronting the battles of the mind”. If granted Permanent Commission, women naval officers can serve till the age of retirement and will be entitled to pension.
The three services have allowed permanent recruitment of women in select streams including medical, education, legal, signals, logistics and engineering. The women officers recruited through the SSC in the IAF have the option of seeking permanent commission in all streams except the flying branch. The Navy has allowed permanent commission of women in a host of departments such as logistics, naval designing, air traffic control, engineering and legal.