The SC ruling on pensions for women IAF officers

What are the landmark cases which have paved the way for a more egalitarian Army? What are the different ways in which the Army, the Navy and the IAF have made provisions for its women cadets?

The story so far:

In an order on November 16, the Supreme Court asked the Indian Air Force (IAF) to consider the grant of pensionary benefits to 32 Short Service Commission (SSC) women officers, who fought for 12 long years to be reinstated and granted permanent commission. This is the latest in a series of legal judgements related to women officers in the armed forces, giving them equal opportunities along with their male counterparts.

What did the Court say?

A Bench comprising of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) D. Y. Chandrachud, Justice Hima Kohli and Justice J.B. Pardiwala said in their order that “These women SSC officers had the legitimate expectation of being granted an opportunity to claim permanent commission in terms of prevailing policy”. The Bench further remarked that, “we are of the view that these women SSC officers be considered for grant of pensionary benefits,” while exercising its extraordinary power under Article 142 of the Constitution for doing complete justice in any matter pending before it. The officers had joined the service between 1993-1998 and were granted extensions of six and four years successively before being released from service between 2006 to 2009.

“Reinstatement cannot be a viable option keeping in mind the requirement related to exigencies of serving the nation,” it noted. The cases of the appellants will be evaluated on the basis of the HR Policy of November, 2010, the court said while making it clear that the officers shall not be entitled to arrears of salary. The CJI also appreciated the IAF for taking a “fair approach”.

Does the Army also offer permanent commission?

The Navy and the IAF had opened up permanent commission to women much before the Army.

In a landmark judgment in the Babita Puniya case in February 2020, the Supreme Court directed that women officers in the Army be granted permanent commission (PC) as well as command postings in all services other than combat. Further, on March 25, 2021 the Supreme Court in Lt. Col. Nitisha vs. Union of India held that the Army’s selective evaluation process discriminated against and disproportionately affected women officers seeking permanent commission.

Giving an overview on women officers in the armed forces, in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha in response to a question from Member of Parliament Priyanka Chaturvedi in August, Minister of State Ajay Bhatt said that in the Army, women are commissioned in 10 arms and services as officers and that permanent commission had been granted. “Women serve as medical doctors and dentists in the Indian armed forces. Only women serve as nurses in Military Nursing Service. Women are being inducted as jawans in Corps of Military Police since 2019,” the reply said.

In another reply to Parliament, the government informed that the National Defence Academy (NDA) has started inducting women cadets from the Autumn 2022 term, with 19 vacancies being allotted to women. The Navy has also opened 12 branches, cadres and specialisations for women officers. It has already announced that women would be inducted as Agniveers under the Agnipath scheme, with training set to commence shortly. On the IAF, the reply added that, “women serve in all arms and services as officers in the IAF akin to their male counterparts.” As per a written reply in Parliament in March, there are 1,640 women officers in the IAF excluding medical, dental and nursing officers. This number incudes 15 fighter pilots, and 53 transport and helicopter pilots each. The fighter stream of IAF was opened for women in 2016.

THE GIST

In an order on November 16, the Supreme Court asked the Indian Air Force (IAF) to consider the grant of pensionary benefits to 32 Short Service Commission (SSC) women officers.

The officers had joined the service between 1993-1998 and were granted extensions of six and four years successively before being released from service between 2006 to 2009.

In a landmark judgment in the Babita Puniya case in February 2020, the Supreme Court directed that women officers in the Army be granted permanent commission (PC) as well as command postings in all services other than combat.