The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Centre to grant permanent commission to all women officers in the Indian Army within three months, terming the Centre's argument of physiological limitations and social norms for denying them command posts 'disturbing'.
A bench headed by Justice D. Y. Chandrachud said there will not be any absolute bar on giving them command postings.
It said women officers in the past have brought laurels to the country and change of mindset is required on the part of the government to put an end to gender bias in armed forces.
The top court said despite there being no stay on the 2010 Delhi High Court verdict allowing grant of permanent commission to women officers, the Centre has shown scant regard in implementing the directive in the past one decade.
It said engagement of women officers in the Army has been an evolutionary process and the Union of India should have acted in accordance with the Delhi High Court judgment when there was no stay on it.
'There is no reason and justification for the union of India not to act as per the Delhi High Court verdict. On September 2, 2011, the Supreme Court has clarified this aspect and said there is no stay on the high court verdict. Despite that scant regard has been paid to the verdict of Delhi High Court and the order of Supreme Court as well,' the bench said.
The bench said it is of the opinion that physiological features of women have no effect in granting permanent commission and they have to be given equal opportunity at par with their male counterparts in the armed forces.
The top court said even after 70 years of post-colonial era, there is a need for change in mindset with regard to giving equal opportunity to women officers in the Indian Army.
It said the Centre's submission of physiological limitation is based on a flawed notion and there is no constitutional basis to deny them equal opportunity.
It said that women officers have brought laurels to the country and several gallantries, sena medals and UN Peace Keeping awards for their contribution in armed forces and to cast aspersion on them on the basis of physiological features is wrong as based on a fallacy.
The bench, however, clarified that deployment of women officers in combat role is a matter of policy as held by the Delhi High Court and the competent authority has to look into it.
The top court said permanent commission can be given to the women officers in the Army irrespective of their tenure of service.
The top court had on February 5 observed that women officers could get command posts in the Army if the government 'changes its mindset'. The observation came a day after solicitor-general Tushar Mehta's said that 'male soldiers in the Indian Army were not yet ready to accept women commanders.'
Mehta, however, told the court that his comments were taken out of context and that he believed women were 'far ahead of men.'
Senior advocate R. Balasubramanian, arguing for the Centre, had said that there was no discrimination between men and women in the armed forces.
In a written plea, the Centre had said: “Inherent physiological differences between men and women preclude equal physical performance resulting in lower physical standards and hence the physical capacity of women officers in the Indian Army remain a challenge for command of units.”
On March 2019 last year, the central government had notified that women officers can get permanent commissions in all the 10 branches of the Army, following Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Independence Day speech, where he had announced the same.
The Supreme Court's judgement on Monday comes following a plea by the defence ministry challenging the 2010 verdict of the Delhi High Court, which had ruled that Army and Air Force women officers in the Short Service Commission (SSC) should be granted permanent commission.
The plea has been filed by 322 women officers, demanding permanent commission.