Context: The Supreme Court declined to hear a plea by a batch of Short Service Commission women officers seeking benefits of permanent commission in the Army.
- These officers completed 14 years of service only in March.
- The court had held that only women officers who had completed 14 years of service before or by February 17 would be considered for permanent commission.
- The court said any relief granted to this batch would open the floodgates for more such petitions.
Supreme Court Judgment of February 2020
- The Supreme Court in February 2020 has done away with all discrimination on the basis of years of service for grant of PC and allowed women to serve as permanently commissioned (PC) officers in 10 combat support arms and services of the Indian Army on a par with their male counterparts in all respects.
- A Permanent Commission means a career in the armed forces until one retires
- It has also removed the restriction of women officers only being allowed to serve in staff appointments, which is the most significant and far-reaching aspect of the judgment.
- It means that women officers will be eligible to the tenant all the command appointments, at par with male officers, which would open avenues for further promotions to higher ranks for them: if women officers had served only in staff, they would not have gone beyond the rank of Colonel.
- It also means that in junior ranks and career courses, women officers would be attending the same training courses and tenanting critical appointments, which are necessary for higher promotions.
- The Supreme Court upheld the right of serving the Short Service Commission (SSC) women officers of the Navy to be granted permanent commission (PC) on a par with their male counterparts.
- The Indian Air Force was first among the three services to grant PC to SSC women officers. The Indian Army chose to appeal in the Supreme Court, citing reasons for peculiar service conditions and operational requirements.
- In July 2020, the government issued a formal sanction offering PC to women officers of the Indian Army.
Women in Army: Background of the case
- The induction of women officers in the Army started in 1992. They were commissioned for a period of five years in certain chosen streams such as Army Education Corps, Corps of Signals, Intelligence Corps, and Corps of Engineers.
- Recruits under the Women Special Entry Scheme (WSES) had a shorter pre-commission training period than their male counterparts who were commissioned under the Short Service Commission (SSC) scheme.
- In 2006, the WSES scheme was replaced with the SSC scheme, which was extended to women officers. They were commissioned for a period of 10 years, extendable up to 14 years.
- Serving WSES officers were given the option to move to the new SSC scheme or to continue under the erstwhile WSES.
- They were to be, however, restricted to roles in streams specified earlier — which excluded combat arms such as infantry and armoured corps.
- While male SSC officers could opt for permanent commission at the end of 10 years of service, this option was not available to women officers.
- They were, thus, kept out of any command appointment, and could not qualify for a government pension, which starts only after 20 years of service as an officer.