New Delhi, Jan. 19: The Supreme Court has rapped the air force for refusing to absorb some women officers who had served the maximum 15 years under the short service commission scheme, saying the IAF’s no-vacancy plea was “no ground” to deny them.
“This is no ground. If they are fit, they must be absorbed. If they are competent officers, you must not let them go waste. They have given so many years into service. Put them on (a) par with their male counterparts,” a bench of Justices R.M. Lodha and S.J. Mukhopadhya observed yesterday.
The observation came after additional solicitor-general Rakesh Khanna said there were no vacancies to absorb the 14 women.
The petitioners — Wing Commanders A.U. Tayyaba, Kalpana Chamoli and 12 others — were part of the first four batches the IAF had recruited under its much criticised short service commission (SSC) scheme between 1998 and 2003.
Under the SSC scheme, women officers — unlike their male counterparts — had to retire from service after five years or a maximum period of 15 years.
In March 2010, Delhi High Court quashed the rule, saying it violated Article 15 of the Constitution that prohibits discrimination on grounds such as caste and gender.
Some 25 women officers were subsequently absorbed into permanent service following the high court judgment.
But the 14 petitioners were not granted the benefit on the ground that they were not party to the earlier petition and had also retired by then. The officers, who had all retired by 2008, then approached the apex court.
Senior counsel P. Narasimha contested additional solicitor-general Khanna’s plea that there were no vacancies to absorb the petitioners. He placed before the court purported media releases issued by the government’s information department that had details of vacancies in the army, the air force and the navy.
Narasimha said the IAF, despite the high court’s verdict, continued to show gender bias.
The 14 women officers said they had joined the air force in response to a 1991 circular that offered permanent commission to short service commission officers.
But while their male counterparts had been absorbed under the permanent service scheme, they were denied the benefit under the ruse that it was still under the government’s consideration, the petitioners said through their counsel Sridhar Potharaju.
They said they continued in service till 2008 with temporary extensions but had to retire after the extensions were not renewed.
In their petition, the women officers said the authorities had gone “against the constitutional obligation imposed on the state not to discriminate” in public employment “only on the basis of caste, gender, etc.” and also the “positive obligation to bring gender equality” in society.
Such actions, they said, were “illegal (and) unconstitutional”, more so when they were “fully eligible for such permanent commission” that had been “expressly promised to them as available to the(ir) male counterparts”.
The bench asked the additional solicitor-general to file an affidavit that there were no vacancies.
“It is really strange… why do you want an order from this court. You should take a lead and give them the permanent commission if they are suitable,” the bench told Khanna, fixing the next hearing for February 19.