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Women Will Sail With The Same Efficiency

The Supreme Court's two judge bench, headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, upheld the validity of the 2015 verdict of the Delhi High Court. He ruled that there should be no discrimination in grating a permanent commission to women in the Indian Navy. This historic judgment came in March 2020. The court further directed the Union government to grant permanent commission to women serving in the navy within the next three months.

Permanent commission means that an officer can serve his/her full term till he/she officially retires. Whereas, the Short Service commission, previously granted to women, meant that the officer's career would be of a limited period.

Justice Rastogi and Justice Chandrachud said that denying equal rights to women who have selflessly served the country would be a serious miscarriage of justice.

Women were denied permanent commission on stereotypical reasons like physiology, motherhood and physical attributes.

This judgment is based on a case filed in February 2008 by 17 SSC women officers. They were represented by senior advocate Aishwarya Bhati. They were denied a permanent commission and were discharged despite completing 14 years of service as SSC officers.

A government policy letter released on 26 February 2006 awarding permanent commissions to SSC officers in all three branches of the Armed Forces was questioned. The deal was, however, limited to certain categories and was intended to work prospectively for the benefit of potential lots launched after January 2009 on SSCs.

The court quashed the stipulation in the policy letter of September 26, 2008 in a number of directions, prospectively making a permanent commission for women and limiting its implementation to specified cadres/branches of the Navy. It directed that all consequential benefits, including arrears of pay, promotions and retirement benefits as and when due, should be entitled to SSC female officers considered necessary for the award of a permanent commission.

SSC women officers who were denied consideration for the grant of permanent commissions on the ground that they were inducted before the issuance of the September 26, 2008 letter and those who are not present in service shall be considered to have completed substantive pensionable service as a one-time measure.

In the February 2020 judgment, Justice Chandrachud referred to the submission that vessels of Russian origin are deployed by the Navy. According to the submission, the Russian origin vessels have no bathrooms for women officers. The court called these submissions both illusory and without any foundation and hence found no reason to stop women from obtaining a permanent commission. The court said that there could be no discrimination between men and women when it came to granting permanent commission. Hence the ban was lifted making this a historic judgment. The court worked on the principle Women can sail with the same efficiency.

A permanent commission entitles an officer to serve till his/her retirement whereas a Short Service Commission allows the officer to serve for only ten years which can only be extended for four more years or a total of fourteen years.

The case pertains to appeals filed by the Union government against a September 2015 judgment of Delhi High Court that held there was no convincing, concrete and valid reason as to why serving women officers were excluded from consideration for permanent commission

The Supreme Court had in February this year, in a similar case relating to the Indian Army, ruled that SSC women officers in service are entitled to permanent commission.

Women officers have worked shoulder to shoulder with their men counterparts in every walk of service. The supposed explanations based on duties at sea or Russian vessels are devices adopted to justify an action which is not germane to the proper discharge of duties and the maintenance of discipline among members of the Armed Forces, the court said.

However, the bench did not extend the advantage of its ruling to those officers of the SSC who have since retired, instead of awarding them pension benefits and compensation of 25 lakh for any loss of opportunity.

They range from physiology, motherhood and physical features to hierarchies dominated by men, the court said. A 101 excuses are no answer to the constitutional entitlement to dignity, which attaches to every individual irrespective of gender, to fair and equal conditions of work and to a level playing field. A level playing field ensures that women have the opportunity to overcome their histories of discrimination with the surest of responses based on their competence, ability and performance.

A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra, and Indira Banerjee announced that the grant of PC to Short Service Commission (SSC) women officers in the Indian Navy would be extended until 31 December. In June, the Centre submitted a proposal to extend the deadline by six months, citing the COVID-19 pandemic.

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