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Superseded & forced to work under male juniors, senior women Army officers move SC

MoD yet to form Selection Board for promotions despite SC’s two rulings on permanent commission, say women officers. This caused loss of financial benefits, study leave among others.

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New Delhi: Thirty-four women officers from the Army have approached the Supreme Court against the central government for deferring their promotions and allowing junior male officers to supersede them. 

In their petition, the women officers, most of whom joined the Army between 1992 and 2007, told the top court that they have been passed over for promotions and accompanying benefits. 

The decision to overlook them for promotions flies in the face of the Supreme Court’s previous verdicts on granting permanent commission to women, the officers argued.  

The petition comes nearly three years after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision ordering the central government to offer permanent commission to women.  

In February 2020, the Supreme Court ordered the central government to offer the Army’s permanent commission to women officers hired under the Short Service Commission policy. In that order, it upbraided the central government for having disregarded the Delhi High Court’s 2010 verdict, which was on similar lines. 

The ruling came on the back of a petition by 332 women demanding to be absorbed into permanent commission.  

In March 2021 — just over a year after the first ruling — the Supreme Court held that those women officers absorbed as permanent Army officers will be entitled to consequential benefits. In this case, as in the first, the apex court gave the central government three months to comply with its direction. 

The two verdicts strongly emphasised the need for gender equality in the armed forces and were hailed as breaking the stereotype prevailing with regard to women officers in the Army.

In the latest petition, the petitioners, all of whom are Lieutenant Colonel-rank officers, argued that despite the lapse of 18 months since the court’s 2021 verdict, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has yet to constitute a Selection Board to promote them to the rank of colonel.

Speaking to ThePrint, Rakesh Kumar, one of the lawyers representing the petitioners, told ThePrint that his clients were eligible for a promotion soon after the Delhi High Court’s 2010 verdict.  

“Even though the Centre had appealed against the HC order, there was no stay on the same. This was specifically pointed out in one of its orders by the top court in 2011,” Kumar told ThePrint. “Therefore, the Centre should have gone ahead and promoted the women officers who were fit for permanent commission. However, the Centre chose to wait for the final outcome of its appeal.” 

Permanent Commission in military services means having a career till retirement. This is as opposed to the Short Service Commission (SSC), under which officers are recruited for a period of 10 years with an option of a four-year extension. 


Also Read: ‘Extraordinary battle’ — How Col. Leena Gurav took on the Army 12 times in court, and won


No selection board for women, two for men 

In its hearing on Monday, a bench led by Chief Justice D. Y. Chandrachud issued notice to the central government and the MoD. 

Senior advocate V. Mohana, who argued the case for the petitioners, informed the court that an order issued in September announced the constitution of a selection board to promote male officers. 

The male officers who were under consideration were all junior to the petitioners, Mohana told the court. 

On learning this, the CJI told senior advocate R. Balasubramanian, who was representing the central government, to withhold the promotions until the court has heard the case and gave him two weeks to respond to the petition. 

In their argument, the petitioners said they had all taken the Middle-Level Tactical Orientation Course (MLTOC) — a two-month course that women officers who were granted permanent commission are required to undergo — to assume the rank of colonel.

Designed specifically for women after the Supreme Court’s 2020 and 2021 verdicts, the MLTOC takes the place of the three-month-long junior command course that male officers are required to undergo.  

Despite their having taken the course, however, no selection board was constituted for  promotion, the petitioners. As a result, the petitioners argued, they were denied consequential benefits such as promotion, financial benefits, study leave, and deputation. 

Meanwhile, authorities have conducted two exclusive selection boards to promote the “Gentleman Officers”, the petitioners told the court. 

The first selection board was held in March for promoting male officers from the 2004-05 batch while another communication issued in September calls for promoting those from the 2006-07 batch, the petitioners said. 

Since the government has not conducted any selection board for senior women officers, they are being forced to serve even under their male counterparts who are much junior, the petitioners said.

‘Superseded, given junior roles’

Women officers who have been passed over for promotion are posted as “additional officers” and treated as superseded or reemployed officers who “do not have any defined charter of duties and they are being posted to the posts which are generally tenanted by junior officers of Captain or Major ranks”, the petition says.

“It is apparent that even after (the) grant of permanent commission, the women officers are still being subjected to systematic, indirect, and gender discrimination,” the petitioners alleged, adding that the non-implementation of the Delhi HC verdict meant that many eligible women officers lost the opportunity of timely promotion. 

“If they would have been promoted in 2010 or 2011, along with their male counterparts, many of them would have become Brigadiers by now,” the petition says.

The delay in granting permanent commission, it argues, has also affected the women officers’ chances of going for study leave or deputation.

According to the Indian Army’s policy, an officer opting for either study leave or deputation must have an equivalent number of years left for service. For instance, an officer opting for two years of study leave must have at least two years of service left. 

But for women officers close to retirement, this isn’t an option, the petitioners argued, asking for the relaxation of this rule.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)


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


 

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