New Delhi, September 3: The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a plea by women officers of the Indian Army to extend the last date for eligibility for service benefits – to be considered for a permanent commission – ruling that any modification of the cut-off dates would have serious implications for future batches.
The top court, in a landmark verdict in February, had said that women officers in the Army could get command positions on par with male officers. The court shot down the government’s arguments against this, calling them “discriminatory”, “disturbing” and based on stereotype.
The verdict said women officers who had completed 14 years of service would be considered for a permanent commission – in other words, a woman would be able rise to the rank of Colonel or above, based on merit, and be given a substantive command. The verdict also said that women officers who had served more than 14 years in the SSC (short service commission), but were unable to get a permanent commission, would get to serve for 20 years.
In Thursday’s hearing the petitioners – women officers who failed to pass the cut-off date, falling around one month short of completing 14 years – wanted the Army to provide them with an option to serve for 20 years, NDTV reported.
Appearing for the petitioners, senior advocate Meenakshi Lekhi argued that the government order accepting the cut-off date came only in July. Ms Lekhi argued that therefore these women officers could be accommodated and, thereby, receive the benefit of pension arising from 20 years’ service.
However, Justice DY Chandrachud, heading the bench, said: “Our judgment said those who had completed 14 years of service, as on the date of the judgment, will get pension and PC benefits. The cut-off is the date of the judgment. If we modify it, we will have to modify for successive batches.”
Justice KM Joseph, also on the bench, said: “It will have serious implications. Every batch will be completing 14 years”.
Col Balasubramaniam, a senior advocate appearing for the government, opposed the women officers’ plea, arguing: “On July 16, when the government passed orders relating to permanent commission, all those who had completed 14 years in service (as on February 17) will get pension. If you allow (this to be) open-ended, it will become difficult to implement. Every six months a batch gets commission. We cannot allow them to get benefit like this.”
In response to the petition and arguments Justice Chandrachud said it was difficult to address these matters because the petitioners were all in the service of the country.
“We feel we should be able to do something for them but where do we draw the line,” the Justice asked.