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Women Army officers say too little, too late as govt finally sanctions permanent commission

Defence ministry letter says selection board will be scheduled when all ‘affected’ SSC women officers exercise their option, complete requisite documentation.

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New Delhi: Five months after the Supreme Court granted permanent commission to women Army officers, the Ministry of Defence has issued the formal Government Sanction Letter (GSL) to Short Service Commissioned (SSC) women officers in all 10 streams of the Army.

This includes the Army Air Defence, Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers, Army Service Corps, Army Ordnance Corps, and Intelligence Corps, in addition to Judge and Advocate General and the Army Educational Corps, where women officers already had permanent commission.

The Supreme Court, in a landmark judgment on 17 February, had granted permanent commission to women officers in the Army irrespective of their number of years of service. The women officer-litigants had been fighting the case for 14 years.

A statement issued Thursday stated that the Army Headquarters had set in motion a series of preparatory actions for conduct of the Permanent Commission Selection Board for affected women officers.

“The selection board will be scheduled as soon as all affected SSC women officers exercise their option and complete requisite documentation,” the statement read, adding that the Indian Army is “committed to provide equal opportunities to all personnel including women officers to serve the nation”.


Also read: ‘Women aren’t adjuncts’ — what SC said while granting permanent commission to women in Army


‘Different rules for women’

However, women officers whom ThePrint spoke to said on the condition of anonymity that the GSL, for which the Army had sought six additional months in the Supreme Court citing Covid-19 pandemic, is a “delayed response” that came after the Army initiated four major policy changes.

This includes the central government’s move to make the Battle Physical Efficiency Test (BPET) mandatory for all women officers, including those commissioned before 2009 and above 35 years of age, who were earlier exempt from it.

The BPET is a series of tests meant to test the physical fitness of an officer or a jawan to perform military tasks.

A senior woman officer said many of them have been asked to do junior command courses, which are for officers with 5-13 years of service, to train them for junior command appointments in the Army.

“This course was made compulsory 1998 onwards, but women officers of the 1994 batch have now been detailed for that, despite the fact that male officers of the same batch have not done it,” the officer said.

The officer added that the grant of permanent commission is dependent on the annual confidential report (ACR) in the first 10 years of service, a ‘Shape 1’ medical category and discipline and vigilance clearance.

“But out of the 620 women officers awaiting a board, 100 women with downgraded medical categories have been detailed for the JC course. With lifestyle diseases common after the age of 45, is it not harassment to them?” she asked.

‘Late by 16 years

The officer also pointed out that women officers have been asked to go for another ‘adequately exercised (AE) tenure’, despite many of them having completed it in their years of service.

“Every officer has to undergo ‘AE tenure’ of minimum 24 months to prove that he/she is fit for handling command appointments, and the weightage of AE tenure in ACR is 50 marks,” the woman officer explained.

“Women officers have tenanted 48 to 60 months of AE appointments against 24 months, which has not been endorsed in their ACRs and now when they are due for promotion they are being asked to undergo a new AE to delay their board by another two years,” she said.

“Most women officers are late by 16 years for permanent commission. If we are to do that tenure now, we will hardly be left with any residual service for command appointments before we retire,” the officer said.

A second woman officer pointed out that the study was ordered by the Army to assess employability of women officers in select positions and also induction of women in the Army below the rank of jawans.

“But the panel has no representation of women,” this officer said. “The GSL is too little, too late,” she added.


Also read: SC permanent commission order likely to open last frontier for Navy women — service at sea


 

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