The Supreme Court on Tuesday pulled up the Centre on the subject of permanent commission for women in the Indian Army, saying that it had ignored several years of their meritorious service while asking them to meet the medical fitness criteria on the date of their consideration for the posts, Live Law reported.
“Some of them might have become national swimmers, they might have gone on the around-the-world yacht expedition, they may have climbed Mount Everest in the intervening years, but all this is ignored,” Justice DY Chandrachud said. “They are senior officers of the Army and some of your best candidates, but you are not even looking at this. Even the subsequent honours and awards are not considered.”
The judge added that the Centre asked for SHAPE-1 (Psychological, Hearing, Appendage, Physical and Eyesight) certification whenever it wanted. “But you ignore their years of meritorious service rendered post the fifth year or the tenth year,” he observed, according to Live Law. “This shows how warped it is. Is the idea to exclude women or to give them equal opportunity?”
Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain, appearing for the Ministry of Defence, told the court that the Centre applied the same rules to male officers. He added that the Centre’s intentions were not mala fide. “We have applied those tests which meet the standards of objectivity and include the maximum possible people, and have kept within the realm of our policy in doing so,” the lawyer said, reported Live Law.
The court said it was not disputing the Army’s rules to apply the SHAPE-1 criteria across the board. “But the Delhi High Court had granted some relief in 2011 to the lady officers, Justice Chandrachud said. “And the Supreme Court expressly said that it is not staying that order of the High Court.”
Chandrachud said that the women officers should have been considered in 2011, adding that the Centre was “obligated to consider them for permanent commission” back then. “If on account of your failure to do so, between 2011 and 2020, many women officers have gone out of SHAPE-1, can you board them out now, saying that they are not SHAPE-1 today?” he said.
During the course of the hearing, the judge also said that it was “tremendously satisfying” to deliver the verdict allowing women to be granted permanent commission in the Army. Chandrachud said that due to the order on the permanent commission, 365 women officers have been given the permanent positions. “This gives a great sense of satisfaction for a judge,” he said, according to Live Law. “And it is not just about these numbers, it is the opening of a new public space for women to be equal members of the workforce!”
In a landmark verdict in February last year, the Supreme Court had directed that women officers in the Army be granted a permanent commission, rejecting the Centre’s stand of their physiological limitations as being based on “stereotypes” and “gender discrimination against women”.
However, 60 women officers alleged that they were denied permanent commission in the Army on the grounds of fitness and moved the Supreme Court.
During a hearing earlier this month, the court questioned the Army for denying permanent commission to women short officers as a way of requiring them to have the same fitness standards at the age of 45 as those applied to 25-year-old male officers. The court said there cannot be a “perverse inequality” in the Armed Forces.