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Status of Women Officers in Army’s Permanent Commission: Hon’ble SC warns Army to grant PC to eligible WSSCOs [READ ORDER]

In Nilam Gorwade vs. Manoj Mukund Naravane and connected cases, the Supreme Court held the Army guilty of contempt for not granting Permanent Commission to Women Short Service Commission Officers according to the ruling in the Lt. Col. Nitisha case.                                                              

By: Hemani Khadai

A bench constituting of Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice AS Bopanna heard a contempt petition filed by 11 officers alleging the Army’s non-compliance to the directions issued by the Court in the case of Lt. Col. Nitisha v. UOI (2020) of granting Permanent Commission to Women Short Service Commission Officers.

The applicants claimed that they were denied PC despite meeting the qualifying conditions laid down by the Court in Lt. Col. Nitisha v. UOI, paragraph 120 of the ruling (2020).

They claimed that, notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Babita Puniya case, the Army refused them permanent commission by adopting an arbitrary medical fitness standard and not examining their qualifications beyond the 5th or 10th year of service.

Justice Chandrachud remarked, “The army might be supreme in its authority, but the constitutional court is supreme in its jurisdiction.”

Further added, “We are holding the Army guilty of contempt. The reason we had asked you to submit an affidavit that PC has not been denied to any officer on the grounds of any consideration other than what we had said in our judgment was to put on notice.”

After consulting with army officials, ASG Sanjay Jain informed the Court that the judgment in Nitisha’s case would be appropriately implemented by following the directions in paragraph 120 and that all WSSCOs covered by paragraph 120 who have not yet been granted PC would be given PC subject to the limitations outlined in paragraph 120 of the judgment. 

The ASG reiterated that not only the 11 WSSCOs who filed a contempt petition as part of 72 and have yet to be awarded PC but also any officers who are not before the Court but satisfy the requirements of para 120 would be granted PC, pending their desire.

The bench then issued an order documenting the ASG’s submissions. To be on the safe side, the bench emphasized that officers with disciplinary and vigilance clearances will be eligible for a PC if they meet the other standards outlined in para 120.

In terms of paragraph 120(ii) of the directions of this Court, those WSSCOs who have disciplinary and vigilance clearances are eligible for the grant of PC, subject to their meeting the other conditions which have been specified in paragraph 120,” the bench noted.

In March, a different court led by Justice Chandrachud ruled in Lt. Col. Nitisha’s case that all women officers who meet the 60% cut-off are entitled to PC if they meet the medical conditions as well as the vigilance and disciplinary clearance requirements.

The petitioners claim that the results disclosed in September this year revealed that they were denied PC despite scoring above 60%, being medically fit, and possessing vigilance clearance, on additional grounds of “discipline, forging medical documents, disobedience of orders, lapses in government procurement, poor work ethics, un-officer like conduct, lack of professionalism, , poor performance in courses, etc.”. 

The petitioners have argued that even after the March judgment, the 72 petitioners were declared unfit and incompetent for PC. Their claim was rejected based on a September 2020 assessment by the Selection Board, which allegedly found charges against the petitioners on the above grounds. 

The Indian Army sought clarification from the Hon’ble Supreme Court on the grant of PC to women SSC officers who had purportedly failed this one condition, asking whether the March judgment meant PC had to be provided regardless of whether the criteria were met.

Justice Chandrachud told the Centre, “You implement the judgment as it stands.”

The bench dismissed the contempt petitions after issuing the aforesaid instructions. The Hon’ble Supreme Court ruled on March 25 in Lt. Col. Nitisha v Union of India that some phrases in the Indian Army’s appraisal process for granting PC to women officers were “arbitrary and unreasonable.”

The Court determined that the evaluation criteria maintained patriarchal gender stereotypes and amounted to “systemic discrimination.”

The bench mentioned that if any officers are ruled unsuitable for PC, they will receive a reasoned order detailing the cause for denial.

As mentioned in Para 7 of the Order, “In the event that they are not found suitable for the grant of PC, a reasoned order shall be communicated to them specifying the ground for rejection.”

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