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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

SC refuses to entertain plea for Permanent Commission of women Army officers after cut-off date

The top court said that relief sought by these women officers, in substance amounts to review of its verdict and if it allows the plea then other batches of officers may also seek similar relief.

By: PTI | New Delhi | Updated: September 3, 2020 2:51:28 pm
supreme court, SC on women in army, women in army, SC ruling on permanent commission to women army officers, order on women permanent commission, women in army, women in combat roles, indian expressThe top court had accepted the Centre's policy of February 25, 2019, to grant PC to SSC women officers in all the 10 streams in the Indian Army. (File)

The Supreme Court Thursday refused to entertain a plea for granting benefits of Permanent Commission (PC) to women SSC officers of Army, who superannuated on completing 14-years in service after the cut-off date of February 17 fixed by the top court.

The top court said that relief sought by these women officers, in substance amounts to review of its verdict and if it allows the plea then other batches of officers may also seek similar relief.

On February 17, the top court in its landmark verdict had directed the Centre to consider within three months, all serving SSC women officers for PC irrespective of them having crossed 14 years or, as the case may be, 20 years of service. It had said, as a one-time measure, the benefit of continuing in service until the attainment of 20 years pensionable service shall also apply to all the existing SSC officers with more than fourteen years of service.

A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and K M Joseph, said on Thursday that it is not inclined to hear the petition as the relief sought, in substance, amounts to review of the judgment.

Read | How women Army officers fought for their full job benefits

During the hearing, the advocate Meenakshi Lekhi said that this application has been filed by 19 women officers who superannuated in March and are seeking that the benefits of permanent commission be granted to them. Lekhi said that the cut-off date fixed by the court is that of the judgment, February 17, but the government order accepting the cut-off date and grant of permanent commission came in July.

Justice Chandrachud said, “If we relax that date of cut off, then there will be no stop. Where do we draw the line? That is actually worrying me.” The bench referred to the judgment and said it had given the direction as a one-time measure only.
It observed that “These women officers completed their 14-years of service in March and we gave a cut-off date of our judgment. The government order came later. How far back can we go?”

Senior advocate R Balasubramanian, appearing for the Centre, opposed the application and said that it cannot be left open ended. He said that the present applicants had not completed 14 years of service as on February 17, when the top court had delivered its judgment.

He said that on July 16, the government passed the orders relating to the Permanent Commission and all those who had completed 14 years in service as on February 17 cut-off date will get pension and other benefits. He said if the court allows the issue to remain open-ended then it will become un-implementable for the government.

The bench told Lekhi, “Now, if we grant the benefit (as sought by applicants) then we will have to give it to the successive batches of officers also”.  The court said that it will have serious implications as every batch will be completing 14 years of service.  It asked Lekhi to withdraw the application and wait for the board for grant of permanent commission to consider their (officers) applications.

Justice Chandrachud said it’s difficult to address these matters because they (officers) are all in service of the nation and we feel that we should be able to do something for them but where to draw the line. On July 7, the top court had granted one more month to the Centre to implement its verdict directing that the PC be given to all serving SSC women officers in the Army. It had said that the Centre will have to comply with all the directions given in the February 17 verdict.

On February 17, the top court had directed that women officers in the Army be granted permanent commission and command postings, rejecting the Centre’s stand of their physiological limitations as being based on “sex stereotypes” and “gender discrimination against women”.

The top court had accepted the Centre’s policy of February 25, 2019, to grant PC to SSC women officers in all the 10 streams in the Indian Army. It had held that the option of grant of PC shall be given to all women SSC officers and if those with more than 14 years of service do not opt for grant of PC then they will be entitled to continue in service until they attain 20 years of pensionable service.

The top court had said SSC women officers with over 20 years of service who are not granted PC shall retire on pension in terms of policy decision. The top court had noted that Indian Army has sanctioned 50,266 posts for officers, while the posts currently occupied are 40,825 including 1,653 by women officers. It had noted that there is a shortage of 9,441 officers in the Indian Army.

There are a total of 1,653 women officers which are a miniscule 4 per cent of the total strength of commissioned officers in the Army, it had said. The total of 1,653 officers includes — 77 having above 20 years of service, 255 having service tenure between 14 and 20 years and the fate of 322 women officers was to be decided by the verdict of the apex court.

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