The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the Centre to allow permanent commission in the Indian Army to women officers who were excluded on the grounds of fitness, Bar and Bench reported. The court observed that the evaluation criteria adopted by the Army for granting them permanent commission was “arbitrary and irrational”, according to Live Law.

The court also directed the Army to reconsider the pleas of nearly 650 women officers within a month, in accordance with Thursday’s order, Live Law reported.

A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah gave the judgement on a batch of petitions filed by 60 women officers who have alleged that they were denied permanent commission in the Army on grounds of fitness.

The court took note of the fact that the fitness standards, known as Shape 1 criteria, were applicable to male officers when they were granted permanent commission in the early years of service. On the other hand, the same fitness standards were applied in case of women officers who became eligible for permanent commission after the landmark verdict of the Supreme Court last year, on the matter.

The court thus observed that fitness of senior women officers were being tested on the standards set for young male ones, which, it said, was an arbitrary rule. “Superficial face of equality will not be in consonance with the principles enshrined in the Constitution,” the court said, according to Bar and Bench.

It also took exception to the fact that the Army did not consider the credentials of women officers beyond their 5th and 10th year of service and chose to freeze their Annual Confidential Report evaluation at those points. The court held that it caused “systemic discrimination” to women officers, Live Law reported.

The court said:

“We must recognize here, that the structures of our society have been created by males for males. Therefore, certain structures which may appear to be facially harmless are an indication of insidious patriarchal system. A facially equal application of laws to unequal parties is farce, when law is structures to cater to male standpoint.”

In its judgement in February 2020, 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.

The judgement on Thursday came in line with the proceedings on the plea so far. During a hearing earlier this month, the court had questioned the Army on the matter of keeping the same fitness standards for 45-year old women officers as for their 25-year old male counterparts, noting that there cannot be a “perverse inequality” in the Armed Forces. On the matter of ignoring Annual Confidential Reports beyond the 10th year of service too, the court had pulled up the Centre for “ignoring years of service”.

On the other hand, on February 4, the government had argued in court that since the Army rank and file is predominantly male and drawn from the rural areas, soldiers are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command.