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Supreme Court: Evaluation criterion to grant permanent commission to women in army arbitrary

The Supreme Court on 25 March struck down the benchmarks set for permanent commission for women Army officers. The court said that medical fitness requirement for women to get permanent commission is arbitrary and irrational.

The apex court delivered the verdict on a batch of pleas filed by several women officers who had sought compliance of its February 2020 directions to the union government for grant of permanent commission, promotions and consequential benefits.

The Supreme Court allowed the pleas and held that the Annual Confidential Report (ACR) evaluation process was flawed and discriminatory in nature. A bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud said that the the evaluation criteria for grant of permanent commission to women officers ignored the achievement and laurels brought by them to the Indian Army.

The bench said that process by which women officers were evaluated did not address the gender discrimination concern raised in the verdict delivered by the apex court last year.

In its landmark verdict delivered on 17 February last year, the top court had directed that women officers in the Army be granted permanent commission, rejecting the Centre’s stand of their physiological limitations as being based on “sex stereotypes” and “gender discrimination against women”.

It had had directed that within three months, all serving SSC women officers have to be considered for permanent commission irrespective of them having crossed 14 years or, as the case may be, 20 years of service.

It noted with dismay that the decision of the Army to not take into account the qualifications of women Short Service Commission officers beyond their 5th or 10th year of services resulted in the exclusion of “some of the finest women officers who have served the Army”.

“Some of the finest women officers who have served the Indian army have been excluded on the specious ground that these have been achieved after 5/10 years on the ground that the benchmark of lowers credentials of male counterparts were not met”, the Court said.

The apex court had earlier ordered that the permanent commission will apply to all women officers in the Indian Army in service irrespective of their years of service. It had ordered that after the judgment of the Delhi High Court, Centre should grant permanent commission to women officers.

“The evaluation criteria adopted by Army constitutes systemic discrimination of women… The criteria requiring them to match the lowest merit of the male officer and requirement to be in SHAPE-1 criteria disproportionately affects women,” the Supreme Court bench said.

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