Context: The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has issued the formal Government Sanction Letter for grant of Permanent Commission (PC) to women officers in the Army.
Difference between Permanent Commission (PC) Vs. Short Service Commission (SSC)
- SSC means an officer’s career will be of a limited period in the Indian Armed Forces whereas a PC means they shall continue to serve in the Indian Armed Forces, till they retire.
- The officers inducted through the SSC usually serve for a period of 14 years. At the end of 10 years, the officers have three options.
- A PC entitles an officer to serve in the Navy till he/she retires unlike SSC, which is currently for 10 years and can be extended by four more years, or a total of 14 years.
- They can either select for a PC or opt-out or have the option of a 4-years extension. They can resign at any time during this period of 4 years extension
- 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.
2 key arguments shot down
- The Supreme Court rejected arguments against a greater role for women officers, saying this violated equality under the law.
- They were being kept out of command posts on the reasoning that the largely rural rank and a file will have problems with women as commanding officers. The biological argument was also rejected as disturbing.
- 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.
- The first batch of women officers under the new scheme entered the Army in 2008.
What are the arguments of the government?
- The government put forth other arguments before the Supreme Court to justify the proposal on the grounds of permanent commission, grants of pensionary benefits, limitations of judicial review on policy issues, occupational hazards, reasons for discrimination against women and rationalization on physiological limitations for employment in staff appointments.
- The apex court has rejected these arguments, saying they are “based on sex stereotypes premised on assumptions about socially ascribed roles of gender which discriminate against women”.
- It has also said that it only shows the need “to emphasise the need for change in mindsets to bring about true equality in the Army”.
What is the significance of the judgement?
- The SC did away with all discrimination on the basis of years of service for grant of PC in 10 streams of combat support arms and services, bringing them on a par with male officers.
- 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.
- 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.