New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday asked the central government why the number of women candidates to be inducted in 2022 through the first annual entrance test for National Defence Academy (NDA) — 19 in total — will be the same as proposed for the 2021 phase-two exam.
Recruitment exams for the NDA are held twice — in April and September — every year.
In September 2021, the SC had passed an order permitting women to take the NDA recruitment test. It also allowed the government to restrict the number of women inductees, after being told that the NDA lacked adequate infrastructure for women trainees.
Thereafter, when the second NDA exam was conducted in November, women candidates took the test too. Out of the 400 candidates who made it to the merit list, 19 were women.
According to the UPSC exam notification issued on 22 December 2021, the first phase of the NDA exam for 2022 is scheduled for 10 April. The notification declares that even for 2022, only 19 women candidates will be chosen out of the 400 successful ones.
Placing the December 2021 notification of the UPSC before a bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, petitioner Kush Kalra said intake of women candidates was restricted to 19 for the 2021 exam only because the court had given them a leeway, considering the academy was not adequately equipped to train them.
The restriction on the number of women candidates was suggested by the court as an emergency measure, the petitioner’s counsel, senior advocate Chinmoy Pradip Sharma, told the bench. However, the UPSC notification was contrary to the Centre’s undertaking that the NDA will be fully equipped, infrastructure-wise, to induct more women candidates, Sharma said, noting his reservations over the exam notice.
Taking note of Sharma’s submissions, the court sought a response from Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhatti and asked her to file an affidavit within three weeks. The document must explain why the induction of women for NDA has been fixed at 19 even for 2022.
It was on Kalra’s plea that the SC had in September ordered the government to permit women officers to join the NDA.
Figure of 19 was ‘emergency measure’
The bench told Bhatti that the “last exam (of November 2021) was under a little push (of the court)”.
“You said there were problems in their (women) intake last year. We wanted the induction to start and that is why we gave the leeway. But you certainly said that by May you will be fully ready. But you seemed to have fixed the quantum fixed for the 2021 exam as the final intake figure,” the bench said.
The law officer submitted that the intake of women candidates is not connected to the infrastructure in the academy, but also the requirement of forces.
But the figure of 19, the court reminded her, was as an “emergency measure”. “So, you need to explain (why the number has not been increased for 2022). What is your programme? How much will be inducted? I assume it will be in a phased manner,” Justice Kaul said.
Advocate Sharma placed the data regarding the number of candidates who cleared the second phase of the NDA 2021 exam to highlight the overwhelming response received from women aspirants keen to join the defence services. Pursuant to the SC’s 18 September order, the UPSC invited applications from unmarried women who fulfilled the eligibility criteria for the entrance test.
Out of over 5.75 lakh applications received, 1.77 lakh were from women. From a total of 8,009 candidates who qualified for the test, 1,002 were women.
‘Phased manner of progression’
According to information made available in the UPSC notification, the 400 cadets who were selected in the November 2021 exam would finally be employed in the defence services. Out of 208 officers requisitioned for the Army, 10 would be women, while there will be three female candidates out of 42 who will be selected for the Navy.
Six out of 120 cadets who will join the Air Force will be women — two in the flying division and four for ground duties, two each in the technical and non-technical departments.
This break-up of intake of women in the defence forces remains the same in the December UPSC notification for the April 2022 exam, the court was told.
At this the bench noted: “Not all fields in these forces will have women induction. Seats have to be fixed depending upon how much women induction has to take place. You cannot have a scenario with an equal number of men and women till you have all fields open to women. That is not happening as yet. This a phased manner of progression. They (government) will explain their stand for the future course of action.”
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)