The order, which will pave the way for empowering women officers to shoulder larger roles in the Army, was issued on July 23. This comes five months after the Supreme Court ruled that Short Service Commissioned (SSC) women officers are entitled to permanent commission (PC). The formal sanction letter was issued and a selection board will assemble soon to pick women for PC, which opens doors for women in a male-dominated force.
Until now, women SSC officers were allowed permanent commission only in the Judge and Advocate General (JAG) and Army Educational Corps (AEC) branches. The new order paved the way for eight additional streams: Army Air Defence (AAD), Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME), Army Service Corps (ASC), Army Ordnance Corps (AOC) and Intelligence Corps. Four branches – Infantry, Armoured, Mechanised Infantry and Artillery – are still barred for SSC women officers.
“In anticipation, the Army Headquarters had set in motion a series of preparatory actions for conduct of the Permanent Commission Selection Board for affected women officers,” the army said in statement. The board will be scheduled as soon as the SSC women officers exercise their option and complete the requisite documentation. The army is committed to providing equal opportunities to all personnel including women officers to serve the country, the statement added.
“As they say ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’ The government needs to be lauded for this leap. The equity has been achieved, however, equality still remains a goal to strive for,” said Wing Commander Anupama Joshi (retd), from the first batch of women officers commissioned into the IAF in the early 1990s. She said the army should allow women in combat roles too.
“It is wonderful to finally see this. I am elated,” said senior counsel Aishwarya Bhati, who appeared for petitioners in Supreme Court.
The SC on February 17 ruled that SSC women officers in the army are entitled to PC and they have to be considered irrespective of their service length.
The policy of the Centre in this regard to restrict PC to SSC women officers with less than 14 years of service was held to be violative of the Right to Equality by the apex court. It also held that there cannot be an absolute bar on women being considered for command appointments.
The judgement was delivered on a petition by the defence ministry challenging a 2010 judgment of the Delhi high court which had ruled that SSC women officers in the army and air force should be granted PC on a par with male SSC officers.
The central government issued a notification in this regard in February 2019 granting PC to SSC officers of the army. However, as per its proposal, only SSC women officers with up to 14 years of service were to be considered for PC.
The Centre got a one-month extension on July 7 to implement the SC’s path-breaking decision. Citing the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown, the Centre moved an application before the apex court to extend the deadline by another six months.