Women naval officers will now be eligible to apply for permanent commission, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday, quashing a government order denying them permanent commission in select branches of the navy.
The top court ruled that women naval officers cannot be denied the right to equal opportunity and dignity entitled to under the Constitution on specious grounds such as physiology, motherhood and physical attributes.
All serving women short service commission (SSC) officers in at least seven wings, including the executive, engineering, electrical, education, law and logistics, will be eligible to apply. The grant of PCs will be subject to: (i) availability of vacancies in the stabilised cadre; (ii) Suitability of the candidate; and (iii) recommendation by the chief of Naval Staff.
The bench did not though extend the benefit of its ruling to those SSC officers who have since retired, instead granting them pensionary benefits and compensation of 25 lakh to some for loss of the opportunity. Another bench of the court led by Justice DY Chandrachud had earlier declared that women would be eligible for permanent commission in select army cadres too.
Today, the bench extended the same principle to the navy. “The battle for gender equality is about confronting the battles of the mind. History is replete with examples where women have been denied their just entitlements under law and the right to fair and equal treatment in the workplace. In the context of the Armed Forces, specious reasons have been advanced by decision-makers….
They range from physiology, motherhood and physical attributes to the male dominated hierarchies,” the court said. “A 101excuses are no answer to the constitutional entitlement to dignity, which attaches to every individual irrespective of gender, to fair and equal conditions of work and to a level playing field. A level playing field ensures that women have the opportunity to overcome their histories of discrimination with the surest of responses based on their competence, ability and performance.” The two-judge bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud was dealing with six writ petitions involving 17 officers who had moved the Delhi HC seeking permanent commission as they had completed 14 years of service as SSC officers but were not considered for it. Though the HC ruled in favour of some who were still in service as on Sept 26, 2008, the Navy did not implement the order and instead appealed to the SC.
The bench frowned on submissions by the government law officer that certain avenues such as sea-sailing duties were ill-suited for women officers as there is no return to the base, unlike in the Army and the Air Force. The law officer had claimed that in vessels of a Russian origin no provision has been made for women as sailors and there are no bathrooms to accommodate them.