After the Indian Army changed its position on denying permanent commission to 72 women short service commission officers, the army was spared contempt proceedings on Friday by the Supreme Court of India. The Indian Army agreed to grant commission to all those women officers who have qualified on merit and have no disciplinary or vigilance clearance pending against them.
Contempt petitions were filed in the top court by the 36 women officers of the 72 which were taken up for hearing by a bench of justices AS Bopanna, Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud. According to these petitions, the Indian Army was allegedly in contempt of an order given by the apex court on 25th March that said that all those women Short Service Commission officers (WSSCOs) who are medically fit, have qualified with 60% Merit and have secured disciplinary and vigilance clearance are to be granted permanent commission.
While, out of the 514 women Short Service Commission officers that had qualified on the basis of 60% benchmark, only 442 of them were provided with a permanent commission while on the other hand the remaining 72 were denied this by the Selection Board that had met in September 2020. That said, it was also reported that one of the officers had opted for premature release from service thereby reducing the number to 71.
An affidavit was submitted by the Ministry of Defence on Friday which stated that upon review and letters with this regard which were issued to them on 29 October, out of the 36 officers, 21 have since been granted permanent commission while the case of one officer was still under consideration leaving 14. While there were serious objections against 11 others, three were found to be medically unfit, as added by the affidavit.
The Indian Army agreed to grant permanent commission to the above-cited 11 officers after some prodding from the court along with considering similarly the case of the Other 36 who did not file a contempt petition. Although no response was given on the development by the Indian Army.
A Prolonged battle
After a prolonged legal battle culminating in the supreme court order on 17 February 2020 the right to the permanent commission along with command positions in non-combat streams at par with the male officers was been secured by the women Short Service Commission officers. Complaining against the whimsical standards on medical fitness and merit applied by the selection board to deny them the due, the women officers once again came to the court in September 2020 while this resulted in the order that was given on 25th March.
Mentioning that the 72 officers who were denied permanent commission faced serious issues like forging medical documents, lack of professionalism, disobedience of Orders, poor work Ethics, poor performance in courses, un-officer like conduct and discipline, an application for clarification of the judgement was moved by the Centre in June.
Initially in Friday’s hearing, the Centre said that a permanent commission would be granted to only 21 of the 36 officers through whom the contempt petition was filed while it was evident that the centre did not have the willingness to grant a permanent commission to the 11 against whom there were serious objections.
Warning from the SC
The Additional Solicitor General said that the officers had the clearances but simultaneously there were some weak points against them pertaining to the relevant period when the court wished to know if these officers had secured any disciplinary and vigilance clearance.
After what was said by the ASG, the court remand that the constitutional Court is Supreme in its own jurisdiction even though the army might be Supreme in its own authority. It further said that a long rope was being provided by the court and if the army goes beyond the order of the court which was given in March they might invite trouble to themselves. A finding, holding the Army guilty of contempt shall also be recorded by the court.
The Indian Army authorities were been directed to deal with the complaints of the two WSSCOs who were denied a permanent commission on medical Grounds within a month by the court while The Contempt petitions were also disposed of by the court. As An Ode to the services rendered by the women officers in the Indian Army the accomplishment of these two officers was mentioned in the March judgement while it was said by a Senior Advocate that due to pregnancy, one officer was shown in low medical category at the relevant period while the other officer was penalised for not producing medical documents to the relevant period.
However, the court reiterated that as of present those officers having disciplinary and vigilance clearance shall be eligible for grant of a permanent commission subject to other conditions mentioned in paragraph 120 of the court judgement by the way of abundant caution this was clarified.