The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Centre why no woman officer in the Indian Navy had been promoted despite being granted permanent commission in 2020, reported Live Law.

Permanent commission entitles an officer to serve in the Navy till they retire. Short Service Commission, on the other hand, is currently for 10 years and can be extended by four more years.

The court was hearing a batch of applications filed in a 2020 case by six women officers in the Navy who had sought permanent commissions.

In March 2020, the Supreme Court had ruled that serving Short Service Commission women officers in the Navy were entitled to permanent commissions, adding that they must be treated at par with male officers.

It had given the Centre three months to implement the verdict. However, in June 2020, the Centre had requested a six-month extension to the deadline, citing the coronavirus pandemic. After this, in October 2020, the court asked the Centre to implement the decision by December 31, 2020.

However, on Wednesday, senior advocate V Mohana, representing the six officers, told the court that they were denied promotion due to systematic discrimination as the petitioners were being considered against their junior batches instead of their male counterparts, reported Live Law.

“After our judgement, how many women have been promoted Mr AG [Attorney General],” Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud asked. “How many women have been promoted in the Navy? It can’t be that no single woman was competent.”

Attorney General R Venkataramani, appearing for the Centre, replied that maybe just one woman was promoted so far, reported Live Law. “It also has to be on merit,” he told the court. “You can’t turn a blind eye to merit.”

To this, the court said: “Mr AG [Attorney General], we find it a little difficult to believe that no single woman officer has been promoted. That’s why we asked how many women were promoted.”

Venkataramani told the court that every promotion is preceded by an approach paper. “We will produce it and then court will know where they stand,” he said, reported the Hindustan Times.

The approach paper is a confidential report prepared by the selection board pertaining to officers who are considered for promotion. It contains reasons for denying or granting promotion.

“There is a ‘look year’ when each officer can be considered,” he said. “The first time the petitioner[s] could be considered was in 2018. They were considered with their peers, and not junior officers.”

However, the petitioners demanded that the Centre produce the India General report prepared for each Selection Board, reported the Hindustan Times. The look year for the six officers she represented was 2016, Mohana told the court.

“It was her case that in the three subsequent ‘look years’, 2018 , 2019 and 2020, no ‘approach paper’ was prepared, amounting to ‘systematic discrimination’”, she told the court.

The top court will next hear the matter on January 2 next year.