New Delhi, January 23
Eleven women army officers have moved the Supreme Court seeking compliance of its February last year directions to the Centre for grant of permanent commission, promotions and consequential benefits to them “in an inclusive, fair, just and reasonable manner”.
In a plea, Lieutenant Colonel Ashu Yadav and 10 other women Army officers alleged that the directions were not being complied with in “letter and spirit”.
The procedures for grant of permanent commission is “vitiated with arbitrariness, unfairness and unreasonableness”, they alleged in the petition, which is scheduled to be taken up for hearing by a bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud on January 27.
“The respondent institution is not leaving any possibility of thrusting their stand of unequal treatment to the women officers indirectly by trapping them into technical and procedural formalities and consequential denial of their rights,” it said.
The conduct of the Centre suggests that it is “playing a psychological warfare with these women officers” to avoid every possibility of granting them the benefits of permanent commission, promotion and consequential benefits, which is in clear violation of the order dated February 17, 2020, the plea said.
“Hence, it is most humbly prayed before this court to direct the respondent institution to determine a fair, rational road map and a well-reasoned policy for women officers on all the aspects, including grant of Col (Colonel) TS (time scale) rank and long outstanding financial dues, so as to promote inclusiveness rather than elimination techniques,” it said.
The plea challenged the general instructions, dated August 1, 2020, regarding the requisites of Special Board-5 (SB-5) for grant of permanent commission to short service commissioned (SSC) women officers.
It has also challenged the absence of any policy for organising the SB-3 board which is the promotion board for women officers who will be approved by the permanent commission board.
The plea also questioned the terms regarding substantive promotion by time scale on the rank of Colonel to women officers after completing 26 years of reckonable service in light of the terms of a notification dated December 21, 2004.
Pointing out the shortcomings of the SB-5 board criterion, the women officers said that the general instructions of August 1 last year, “are a set of arbitrary norms/criterion and pre-requisites, for the consideration of women officers by the SB-5 board that is the board for granting permanent commission”.
It said that the medical criterion laid down in the general instructions is inconsistent with the basic tenets of equality as laid down in Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
The general instructions released by the Indian Army on August 1 last year are “full of ambiguities as it contains provisions which seek to eliminate the women officers rather than giving them a fair chance or opportunity of permanent commission”, the plea said.
The petitioners said that it is apprehended that applying such procedure on women officers is only to render them unfit.
“For instance, women officers above 45 years (approaching menopause) and unmarried women officers were also made to undergo pregnancy test overlooking their age and marital status,” they claimed in their plea.
The plea said that women officers subjected to the permanent commission board include those who have continued in service beyond 14 and 20 years performing all such duties that have been performed by their male counterparts without any obstruction due to physiological changes.
“Thus, the medical conditions not being an impediment in career progression and promotions for male officers in the similar service length bracket cannot be so for the women officers,” it said.
The petitioners said that in a hierarchical organisation like the army, where stiff competition exists for each vacancy in promotion boards (SB-3), objectivity of ACRs of senior women officers having been rendered by male counterparts who were many batches junior to them, in some cases their students, cannot be considered at such a belated stage or for that matter at any stage to avoid unparalleled prejudices.
“It will be in clear breach of the provisions of the Army Order… consisting of the terms of protection of rights of a batch,” the plea said.
The officers submitted that they have been deprived of the provision for time-scale promotion recognised by the Indian Army which was introduced through the notification of December 21, 2004, wherein all officers who have completed the service period of 26 years without promotion to the rank of Colonel by selection shall be so promoted by time scale.
They said that the purpose of filing the plea is to “highlight the remaining hurdles to the battle of permanent commission, promotion and consequential benefits which has been fought and won over a period of 15 years with a hope of achieving their rightful claims”.
On February 17 last year in a landmark verdict, the top court had directed that women officers in the Army be granted permanent commission, rejecting the Centre’s stand of their physiological limitations as being based on “sex stereotypes” and “gender discrimination against women”.
The apex court had directed that within three months, all serving SSC women officers have to be considered for permanent commission irrespective them having crossed 14 years or, as the case may be, 20 years of service.