After Army, SC asks Centre to grant Permanent Commission to women Navy officers as well

Supreme Court: In yet another big verdict on rights of women, a bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi, JJ has lifted the statutory bar on the engagement or enrolment of women in the Indian Navy to the extent envisaged in the notifications issued by the Union Government on 9 October 1991 and 6 November 1998 under Section 9(2) of the Navy Act, 1957.

On the contention that certain sea-going duties are ill-suited to women officers, the Court said that such contention is premised on sex stereotypes that male officers are more suited to certain duties by virtue of the physiological characteristics.

“Performance at work and dedication to the cause of the nation are the surest answers to prevailing gender stereotypes. To deprive serving women officers of the opportunity to work as equals with men on PCs in the Indian Navy is plainly discriminatory. Furthermore, to contend that women officers are illsuited to certain avocations which involve them being aboard ships is contrary to the equal worth of the women officers who dedicate their lives to serving in the cause of the nation.”

The Court, hence, passed the following directions:

  • By and as a result of the policy decision of the Union Government in the Ministry of Defence dated 25 February 1999, the terms and conditions of service of SSC officers, including women in regard to the grant of PCs are governed by Regulation 203, Chapter IX, Part III of the 1963 Regulations;
  • The stipulation in the policy letter dated 26 September 2008 making it prospective and restricting its application to specified cadres/branches of the Indian Navy shall not be enforced;
  • The provisions of the implementation guidelines dated 3 December 2008, to the extent that they are made prospective and restricted to specified cadres are quashed and set aside;
  • All SSC officers in the Education, Law and Logistics cadres who are presently in service shall be considered for the grant of PCs.

“The right to be considered for the grant of PCs arises from the policy letter dated 25 February 1999 read with Regulation 203 of Chapter IX Part III of the 1963 Regulations. SSC women officers in the batch of cases before the High Court and the AFT, who are presently in service shall be considered for the grant of PCs on the basis of the vacancy position as on the date of judgments of the Delhi High Court and the AFT or as it presently stands, whichever is higher”

  • The period of service after which women SSC officers shall be entitled to submit applications for the grant of PCs shall be the same as their male counterparts;
  • The applications of the serving officers for the grant of PCs shall be considered on the basis of the norms contained in Regulation 203 namely:
    • availability of vacancies in the stabilised cadre at the material time;
    • determination of suitability; and
    • recommendation of the Chief of the Naval Staff. Their empanelment shall be based on inter se merit evaluated on the ACRs of the officers under consideration, subject to the availability of vacancies;
  • SSC officers who are found suitable for the grant of PC shall be entitled to all consequential benefits including arrears of pay, promotions and retiral benefits as and when due;
  • All SSC women officers who were denied consideration for the grant of PCs on the ground that they were inducted prior to the issuance of the letter dated 26 September 2008 and who are not presently in service shall be deemed, as a one-time measure, to have completed substantive pensionable service. Their pensionary benefits shall be computed and released on this basis. No arrears of salary shall be payable for the period after release from service;
  • As a one-time measure, all SSC women officers who were before the High Court and the AFT who are not granted PCs shall be deemed to have completed substantive qualifying service for the grant of pension and shall be entitled to all consequential benefits; and

The Court, further directed that 5 women Commanders, namely Commander R Prasanna, Commander Puja Chhabra, Commander Saroj Kumar, Commander Sumita Balooni and Commander E Prasanna, who were not reinstated despite Court’s interim order, shall be entitled, in addition to the grant of pensionary benefits, as a one-time measure, to compensation quantified at ? 25 lakhs each.

Earlier, the same bench had ordered that the permanent commission will apply to all women officers in the Indian Army in service, irrespective of their years of service.

[Union of India v. Lt. Cdr. Annie Nagaraja, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 326, decided on 17.03.2020]

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