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Judgments of Supreme Court of India and High Courts

Secr.,Ministry Of Defence vs Babita Puniya on 17 February, 2020

Reportable

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

Civil Appeal Nos 9367-9369 of 2011

The Secretary, Ministry of Defence …Appellant

Versus

Babita Puniya Ors. …Respondents

With

Civil Appeal Nos 1127-1128 of 2013

And With

Civil Appeal No. 1210 of 2020

Signature Not Verified

Digitally signed by
SANJAY KUMAR
Date: 2020.02.17
13:49:23 IST
Reason:

1
JUDGMENT

Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, J

Index

A Background

of the dispute

B Proposal of the Union of India

C Submissions

D Consequence of the policy letter dated 25 February 2019

E Stereotypes and women in the Armed Forces

F Consequence of non-compliance

G Blanket restriction on criteria appointments

H Directions

2
PART A

A Background of the dispute

1. A quest for equality of opportunity for women seeking Permanent

Commissions1 in the Indian Army forms the basis of these appeals. The lead

appeal originated in a batch of Writ Petitions which were instituted before the

High Court of Delhi in 2003 and 2006.

2. A decade and more spent in litigation, women engaged on Short Service

Commissions2 in the Army seek parity with their male counterparts in obtaining

PCs. The entry of women in the Army has a chequered history. Section 12 of the

Army Act 19503 contains, in so far as it is material, the following provisions:

“12. Ineligibility of females for enrolment or employment.- No
female shall be eligible for enrolment or employment in the
regular Army, except in such corps, department, branch or
other body forming part of, or attached to any portion of, the
regular Army as the Central Government may, by notification
in the Official Gazette, specify in this behalf.”

3. Pursuant to the power conferred by Section 12, the Union Government

issued a notification4 dated 30 January 1992 making women eligible for

appointment as officers in the specific branches/cadres of the Army. These were:

“(i) Army Postal Service;
(ii) Judge Advocate General‟s Department;
(iii) Army Education Corps;
(iv) Army Ordinance Corps (Central Ammunition Depots
and Material Management); and
(v) Army Service Corps (Food Scientists and Catering
Officers).”

1
“PC”
2
“SSCs”
3
“1950 Act”
4
SRO-11

3
PART A

This notification was to remain in force for a period of five years from the date on

which it was published in the official Gazette. SRO-11 was published in the

Gazette on 15 February 1992.

4. By a notification5 dated 31 December 1992, women became eligible for

enrollment in the following corps/departments of the regular Army:

“(i) Corps of Signals,
(ii) Intelligence Corps,
(iii) Corps of Engineers,
(iv) Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering,
(v) Regiment of Artillery.”

5. The provision for the induction of women for an initial period of five years

was extended by a notification6 dated 12 December 1996 issued by the Ministry

of Defence7. The notification deleted paragraph 2 of SRO-11 under which

enrollment was to be for a period of five years.

6. On 28 October 2005, a notification8 was issued by the MoD by which the

Union Government extended the validity “of the scheme of appointment of

women as officers in the Indian Army”. To facilitate this, four amendments were

made to the earlier notification dated15 February 1992:

(i) The tenure of women officers inducted under the Women Special Entry

Scheme (Officers)9 under the notifications dated 15 February 1992, 23

January 1993 and 12 December 1996 was extended by five years from

1997;

5

SRO-1, published in the Gazette on 23 January 1993
6
SRO-10(E)
7
“MoD”
8
SRO-121, published in the Gazette on 19 November 2005
9
“WSES”

4
PART A

(ii) The tenure of SSC male officers and WSES officers was extended up

to fourteen years;

(iii) The WSES was to cease to apply as a consequence of which women

officers were to be inducted through SSC in the corps/services notified

by the notification dated 15 February 1992, 23 January 1993 and 12

December 1996; and

(iv) Substantive promotions were to be extended both to men and women

SSC officers “as applicable to PC officers”.

7. Initially, when the WSES was notified under an Army instruction10, it was

governed by the Terms of Engagement.11 Para 1 of the ToE stipulated that

commission would be for a period of five years in the Army Service Corps, Army

Ordinance Corps, Army Education Corps12 and Judge Advocate General

Department13. Para 12 contemplated that on the successful completion of pre-

commission training, „lady cadets‟ would be granted PCs in the rank of second

Lieutenant, but they would be placed junior to other candidates passing out from

the Indian Military Academy and would be granted regular commission from the

same date. Para 19 contemplated that:

“19. Disposal on Expiry of Commission: On expiry of
contractual period of commission i.e. five years
commissioned service from the date of grant of commission,
they will be released from the service. The officers granted
commission under this Army Instruction will not be granted
permanent commission or any extension beyond five years of
commissioned service.”

10
SAI NO/1/5/92
11
“ToE”
12
“AEC”
13
“JAG”

5
PART A

8. The original ToE provided for a contractual period of five years after which

the officers were to be released from service. The officers who were granted

commission under the Army instruction were not entitled to PC or to any

extension beyond five years of commissioned service.

9. On 1 August 1996, an amendment was issued to the WSES, under which

the commission for an initial period of five years was made further extendable by

five years in the Regiment of Artillery, Corps of Engineers, Corps of Signals,

Army Service Corps, Army Ordinance Corps, Corps of Electrical and Mechanical

engineers, AEC, Intelligence Corps and JAG department. Women who had been

granted commission for an initial period of five years were required to furnish an

option for extension by five years or for release. A provision was made for

promotion on a substantive basis to the rank of a Lieutenant after two years and

to the rank of Captain after five years. The provision contained in para 19 of the

earlier Army instruction14 for the release from service on the completion of the

contractual period of five years was substituted by the following provision:

“19. Disposal on Expiry of Commission. On expiry of
contractual period of commission i.e. five years/ ten years
from the date of grant of commission as the case may be,
they will be released from the service. The officers granted
commission under these Army Instruction will not be granted
permanent commission.”

10. The position that emerges from the above narration is that when the

induction of women in the Army was envisaged with effect from 15 February 1992

in stipulated branches and cadres, the tenure of engagement was five years. The

above stipulation of five years was deleted on 12 December 1996. On 19

14
SAI NO 1/5/92

6
PART A

November 2005, the MoD provided that the tenure of WSES officers would be

extended up to fourteen years. The Army instruction broadly followed the same

course, as a consequence of which a cap on the length of service was

introduced. The initial process of induction under the WSES was replaced by

SSCs with an outer period of fourteen years.

11. The contesting respondents (other than the first respondent, who is not an

Army officer) were selected in the Army as SSC officers commencing from 1995-

96.

12. In February 2003, Babita Puniya, an advocate instituted a Writ Petition15 in

the nature of a Public Interest Litigation16 before the Delhi High Court for the

grant of PC to women SSC officers in the Army.

13. During the course of the proceedings, two circulars were issued on 20 July

2006, conveying the sanction of the President of India regarding the grant of

SSCs both on the technical and non-technical side to women officers. The period

of training was stipulated at fourty-nine weeks at par with male SSC officers. The

circulars had comprehensive provisions pertaining among other things, tenure,

substantive promotions and adjustment of seniority. Serving WSES officers were

given an option to move to the new SSC scheme or to continue under the

erstwhile WSES. The first batch of women officers under the new scheme

entered the Army in 2008. Among the terms and conditions, para 1(a) provided

for tenure in the following terms:

15

WP (C) 1597 of 2003
16
“PIL”

7
PART A

“(a) Tenure of Short Service Commission: Short Service
Commission (SSC) Technical in the Regular Army will be
granted for 14 years i.e. for an initial period of ten years
extendable by a further of four years.”

14. Para 1(c) enabled newly inducted women officers other than those with a

specialised course to leave service after completing five years of service.

Substantive promotions were provided in Para (e) in the following terms:

“(e) Substantive Promotion: Women granted Short
Service Commission under these rules will be eligible for
substantive promotion as under:-

(i) To the rank of Capt – On completion of 2 years
reckonable commissioned service.

(ii) To the rank of Maj – On completion of 6 years
reckonable commissioned service.

(iii) To the rank of LT Col – On completion of 13 years
reckonable commissioned service.”

Para 1(g) provided for the adjustment of seniority:

“(g) Adjustment of Seniority: To make adjustment for
shorter training of SSC Women Officers vis-à-vis PC officers,
the seniority of SSC Women Officers will be depressed by the
period corresponding to the difference in training period
between the SSC course under consideration and the training
period of its equivalent PC Course. This adjustment of
seniority will be carried out at the time of grant of first
substantive rank of Captain. The revised seniority will have no
effect on the pay and allowance granted in the rank of Capt.

Major and Lt Col.”

Para 2-A allowed serving officers under the WSES to exercise an option to opt for

the SSC scheme within six months failing which, they would be treated to have

exercised the option to continue under the erstwhile scheme. Para 4 contained

the following stipulation:

“4. All other provisions of AI 1/93 except Para 18 and SAI
1/S/92 as amended will be applicable, mutatis mutandis, to
women granted SSC subject to issue of separate AI for SSC
(Women) (Tech).”

8
PART A

Consequently, all other provisions contained in SAI-1/S/1992 were to apply

mutatis mutandis to women who were granted SSCs.

15. Apart from the PIL which was instituted before the High Court of Delhi, a

Writ Petition17 was filed by Major Leena Gurav on 16 October 2006 primarily to

challenge the terms and conditions of service imposed by the circulars dated 20

July 2006 and for seeking the grant of PCs for women officers.

16. On 26 September 2008, the MoD issued a circular envisaging the grant of

PCs prospectively to SSC women officers in the JAG department and the AEC.

The circular was challenged before the Delhi High Court by Major Sandhya

Yadav and others on the ground that it granted PCs only prospectively and only

to certain specified cadres.

17. The Writ Petitions were heard together by the Division Bench of the Delhi

High Court. By a judgment dated 12 March 2010, the High Court issued the

following directions:

“61…
i. The claim of absorption in areas of operation not open for
recruitment of women officers cannot be sustained being
a policy decision.

ii. The policy decision not to offer PC to Short Service
Commissioned officers across the board for men and
women being on parity and as part of manpower
management exercises is a policy decision which is not
required to be interfered with.

iii. The Short Service Commissioned women officers of the
Air Force who had opted for PC and were not granted PC
but granted extension of SSCs and of the Army are
entitled to PC at par with male Short Service
Commissioned officers with all consequential benefits.

This benefit would be conferred to women officers

17
WP (C) 16010 of 2006

9
PART A

recruited prior to change of policy as (ii) aforesaid. The
Permanent Commission shall be offered to them after
completion of five years. They would also be entitled to all
consequential benefits such as promotion and other
financial benefits. However, the aforesaid benefits are to
be made available only to women officers in service or
who have approached this Court by filing these petitions
and have retired during the course of pendency of the
petitions.

iv. It is made clear that those women officers who have not
attained the age of retirement available for the Permanent
Commissioned officers shall, however, be reinstated in
service and shall be granted all consequential benefits
including promotion, etc. except for the pay and
allowance for the period they have not been in service.
v. The necessary steps including release of financial
benefits shall be done by the authorities within two (2)
months of passing of this order.”

At this stage, it would be appropriate to briefly dwell on the above directions.

18. Clause (i) envisages that “areas of operation” of the Armed forces where

recruitment of women officers is not open was excluded from the purview of the

judgment of the High Court on the ground that it is a matter of policy. Women

have been excluded from combat operations. This exclusion which has not been

interfered with in direction (i) above on the ground that it is a matter of policy is

not the subject matter of contest in the present appeals. Direction (ii) envisages

that where a policy decision has been taken not to offer PC to SSC officers – both

men and women without distinction as a part of manpower management, such a

policy decision was not be interfered with. Direction (iii) envisages that women

officers of the Air Force and Army on SSC who had opted for the grant of PC but

were not granted that status would be entitled to PC at par with male SSC

officers with all consequential benefits. PC was to be offered to them after the

completion of five years together with consequential benefits of promotion and

10
PART A

other financial benefits. However, this benefit was only available to women

officers in service who had instituted proceedings before the High Court and had

retired during the pendency of the Writ Petitions. By direction (iv), it was

envisaged that women officers who had not attained the age of superannuation

for PC officers would be reinstated with all consequential benefits.

19. Assailing the judgment of the High Court, the Union of India is in appeal.

The present batch of appeals relates to the Indian Army. The directions issued by

the High Court in regard to the Indian Air Force are not the subject of contest in

these appeals.

20. Contempt proceedings were initiated by the respondents against the Union

of India alleging non-compliance with the judgment of the Delhi High Court. On 2

August 2010, the Solicitor General of India made a statement before this Court

that “women SSC officers in service would be considered for grant of Permanent

Commission in JAG and Education Branch of the Army within two months…” In

view of the statement made before this Court, the contempt proceedings were

stayed. By an order dated 4 October 2010, time for compliance with the order

dated 2 August 2010 was extended until 1 December 2010.

21. On 11 January 2011, this Court, while issuing notice, acceded to the

prayer of the Additional Solicitor General of India for an adjournment of six weeks

to enable a „high powered committee‟ constituted by the Union Government to

consider the question pertaining to the grant of PCs to SCC women officers and

to enable the Chief of Staffs‟ Committee and the MoD to consider the report.

During the pendency of the proceedings, applications for impleadment were

11
PART B

allowed on 4 March 2011 and the operation of release orders passed by the

Union of India on 19 January 2011 was stayed. On 2 September 2011, this Court

dealt with an application filed by eleven applicants for re-instatement in the Army

in terms of the judgment of the Delhi High Court. Dealing with the application, this

Court observed that:

“What is stayed as interim measure by this Court is action of
contempt initiated by the original writ petitioners against the
petitioners in Special Leave Petitions. The operation of the
impugned judgment is not stayed at all.”
(Emphasis supplied)

It was explicitly clarified that no stay had been issued on the judgment of the

Delhi High Court. Hence, eleven applicants were allowed to be re-instated in

terms of the judgment of the Delhi High Court subject to the outcome the appeal.

Eventually, leave was granted on 2 September 2011. During the pendency of the

appeal, on 24 April 2012, this Court allowed impleadment applications and stayed

a release order 10 April 2012. As a consequence, the applicants were held to be

entitled to regular salary and other emoluments in the ranks which they were

presently holding. Similar orders were passed by the Court on 12 July 2013.

B Proposal of the Union of India

22. During the pendency of this appeal, the Union Government in the MoD

issued a communication dated 25 February 2019 for the grant of PCs to SSC

women officers in eight arms or services of the Army, in addition to the JAG and

AEC which had been opened up earlier for PC. The communication stipulates

that:

12
PART B

“The sanction of the President is hereby conveyed for
consideration of grant of Permanent Commission to SSC
Women Officers in the eight arms/services in Indian Army viz.
Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Army Air Defence,
Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME), Army Service
Corps, Army Ordinance Corps and Intelligence in addition to
the existing two streams of Judge Advocate General (JAG)
and Army Education Corps (AEC). Thus women will be
considered for grant of PC in all the ten streams in which they
are currently being commissioned as SSC Officers.”

The communication further stipulates that:

(i) Women officers will continue to be commissioned in the above

mentioned ten arms/services as earlier with no change in their tenure of

SSC engagement;

(ii) On the completion of three years and before completing four years of

commissioned service, they will be required to exercise an option for

the grant of PC and the choice of specialisation;

(iii) SSC women officers will be considered for the grant of PC based on

the availability of vacancies and subject to willingness, suitability,

performance, medical fitness and competitive merit;

(iv) On the grant of PC, women officers will be employed “in various staff

appointments only” in accordance with their qualifications, professional

experience, specialisation, if any, and organisational requirements;

(v) While women officers who are granted PCs will continue to be a part of

their parent Army/service, “they would serve on staff appointments

only” both within the parent Army/service and in other fields of

specialization;

13
PART B

(vi) Further career progression in selected ranks will be within the existing

authorised strength of officers in the Army and no additional select rank

vacancies will be created;

(vii) Women officers who fail to exercise the option for PC will be governed

by the terms and conditions under which they were commissioned; and

(viii) The policy would come into effect prospectively from the date of the

issuance of the letter.

The communication dated 25 February 2019 is reproduced below:

“Policy letter dated 25 February 2019

F. No. 14(01)/2018-D(AG)
Government of India
Ministry of Defence
New Delhi,
Dated the 25th February, 2019
To
The Chief of Army Staff,
New Delhi

Subject: Permanent Commission to Short Service
Commission (SSC) Women Officers in Indian
Army.

This is in continuation of MoD letter No. 12(01)/2004-
D(AG) Pt. II dated 26.09.2008 and letter No. 671/2009-(AG)
dated 11.11.2011 regarding induction of women in Armed
Forces and grant of Permanent Commission (PC) to Short
Service Commission (SSC) Women Officers.

2. The sanction of the President is hereby conveyed for
consideration of grant of Permanent Commission to SSC
Women Officers in the eight arms/services in Indian Army viz.
Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Army Air Defence,
Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME), Army Service
Corps, Army Ordnance Corps and Intelligence in addition to
the existing two streams of Judge Advocate General (JAG)
and Army Education Corps (AEC). Thus women will be
considered for grant of PC in all the ten streams in which they
are currently being commissioned as SSC Officers.

3. Women Officers will continue to be commissioned into
the above mentioned ten Arms and Services hither-to-force,
with no change in their tenure of Short Service engagement.

14

PART B

4. On completion of three years of commissioned
service and before completion of four years of commissioned
service, they will be required to exercise option for grant of
PC and their choices for specialization.

5. SSC Women Officers will be considered for grant of
PC based on the availability of vacancies and subject to
willingness, suitability, performance, medical fitness and
competitive merit. On grant of permanent commission, these
women officers will be employed in various staff appointments
only as per their qualification, professional experience,
specialization if any and organizational requirement.

6. Women Officers granted PC will continue to be part of
their parent arm/service. However, they would serve on staff
appointments only, both within their parent arm/service and in
other fields of their specialization.

7. Their further career progression in select ranks will be
within the existing authorised strength of officers in Indian
Army in accordance with paragraph 6 above and no
additional select rank vacancies will be created for this
purpose.

8. Women Officers who fail to exercise option for
permanent commission or do not opt for permanent
commission will be governed by terms and conditions under
which they were commissioned.

9. This policy will come into effect prospectively from the
date of issue of this letter.

10. Necessary administrative instructions in this regard
will be issued by Army HQ.

11. This issues with the concurrence of MoD (Finance)
vide their ID No.2(12)/2019(50-PA) dated 22.02.2019.

(Poornima Rajendran)
Deputy Secretary
Tel: 23011593

Copy to: As per standard distribution”

15
PART B

23. During the course of hearing, Mr R Balasubramanian, learned Senior

Counsel appearing on behalf of the Union of India has tendered a proposal which

envisages that:

(i) Women officers of up to fourteen years of service would be considered for

the grant of PC with further career progression only in staff appointments

in terms of the Union Government‟s communication dated 25 February

2019. Since women officers above four years of service have missed the

cut-off stipulated in the communication for exercising their choice to opt for

the grant of PC and specialisation, the provisions would be modified for the

benefit of such officers;

(ii) Women officers with more than fourteen years of service would be

permitted to serve for up to twenty years without being considered for the

grant of PC and would be then released with pensionary benefits subject to

meeting disciplinary and medical criteria; and

(iii) Women officers with more than twenty years of service would be released

with pensionary benefits immediately upon the conclusion of the present

appeal.

The rationale for the above classification is explained in the following terms:

(i) In 1992, the Army introduced the WSES in the Army Service Corps, Army

Ordinance Corps, AEC and the JAG branches. The training period was

twenty-four weeks and the tenure of service was five years;

(ii) In 1996, the tenure was extended by five years in Corps of Engineers,

Signals and Electrical and Mechanical Engineering branches; and

16
PART B

(iii) In 2004, the tenure was extended from ten years to fourteen years (5+5

+4). Women officers who have rendered more than fourteen years of

service belonged to the erstwhile WSES whose ToE were initially for a

period of five years, extended in two spells, thereafter to fourteen years

(5+5+4). Since their employment was for a limited period, they were

imparted shorter pre-commission training of twenty-four weeks as against

forty-nine weeks for male officers. These officers have limited exposure

and responsibility and many in the technical arms are not qualified.

24. In pursuance of an order dated 23 July 2018 of this Court in the present

appeal, the Union of India in the MoD filed an affidavit dated 4 May 2018. The

Union of India states that the services in the Army are classified into three broad

categories: (i) Combat Arms; (ii) Combat Support Arms; and (iii) Services. SSC

for women was available only in Combat Support Arms and Services. Combat

Arms have been excluded for SSC appointments for women in the Army. The

judgment of the Delhi High Court has also affirmed this position. In 2008, the

benefit of PC was extended to SSC women officers in the JAG and AEC which

belonged to the Services stream. As a consequence of the judgment of the Delhi

High Court, it has been held that in all streams where the Army has provided the

option for SSC women officers, there should be no impediment for extending the

option for the conferment of PCs. The effect of the judgment is that all SCC

women officers in different disciplines in the Combat Support Arms and in the

Services category to whom the judgment applies have continued in service

beyond the maximum permissible term of fourteen years as SSC officers.

17
PART C

25. Women SSC officers commissioned before 2008 who were parties before

the High Court but had been discharged from service secured the benefit of being

reinstated in service as a consequence of the judgment of the Delhi High Court.

As a result, they have continued after the expiry of the term of fourteen years.

The Union of India contends that restrictions on the employability of women in the

Army “is inescapable due to the peculiar operational compulsions of the Army”.

According to the Union Government, measures to eradicate the divide between

men and women officers in as many streams as possible are being adopted in an

incremental manner.

C Submissions

Submissions of the Union Government

26. Challenging the judgment of the Delhi High Court, the following

submissions have been urged on behalf of Union of India:

(a) Grant of PC

(i) Prior to the communication dated 25 February 2019, the engagement of

SSC women officers was governed by Gazette notifications as amended

from time to time. The ToE of WSES officers, later replaced by SSC

service was tenure based with a clear stipulation for exit on the completion

of fourteen years of service. The grant of PCs was specifically not

envisaged. None of these notifications or Army instructions were

challenged before the High Court;

18
PART C

(ii) The judgment of the Delhi High Court has failed to take notice of the

relevant statutory provisions and orders of the Government of India;

(iii) Under Section 10 of the 1950 Act, the grant of commission is at the

discretion of the President of India. The absence of a fundamental right to

claim PC is reinforced by Section 12 of the 1950 Act by reason of which,

no woman is eligible for employment except in such corps and

departments as the Government of India may determine. The power to

grant commission belongs to the President and no mandamus can be

claimed from a court;

(iv) The communication dated 25 February 2019 which has been placed on

record has been taken after due deliberation and is issued in national

interest. It stipulates that the order applies prospectively;

(v) The policy decision communicated on 25 February 2019, envisages that

the skills of SSC women officers can be utilized by training them in

specialised fields such as language interpreters, imagery interpreters and

cyber and information technology. In these specialisations, unrestricted

employment including career progression to higher ranks can be ensured;

and

(vi) The new policy is in organisational interest. The benefits envisaged in the

policy cannot be granted to women officers who have crossed fourteen

years since they will be left with little time to be trained. It would not be

possible to gainfully employ them, as they would have limited years of

service left.

(b) Pensionary benefits

19
PART C

27. The policy decision dated 15 February 2019 communicated by the Union

of India provides that the offer of PCs would be restricted to SSC women officers

who have not completed fourteen years of service. Those who have completed

fourteen years but have not attained the pensionable service of twenty years

would be permitted to continue without any scrutiny as a one-time measure to

qualify for the grant of pensionary benefits. Women officers who have crossed

twenty years of pensionable service would be discharged from service

immediately and would receive pension. Thus, the substantial benefit of

pensionable service has been provided to women officers who have continued

beyond fourteen years of service under interim orders.

(c)         Policy considerations

28. The Union of India has submitted that:

(i) Fortified by Section 12 of the 1950 Act and Article 3318 of the Constitution,

questions relating to constitution, recruitment, posts, categories, cadres

and criteria for the grant of PCs constitute policy decisions and lie

exclusively in the domain of executive functions;

(ii) The provisions of the 1950 Act, insofar as they infringe or affect

fundamental rights, are protected by Article 33;

(iii) The Union Government is entitled to frame a policy regarding the grant of

PCs to women officers after accounting for the need for a balanced

18
Power of Parliament to modify the rights conferred by this Part in their application to Forces, etc. – Parliament
may, by law, determine to what extent any of the rights conferred by this Part shall, in their application to, - (a) the
members of the Armed Forces; or (b) the members of the Forces charged with the maintenance of public order;
or (c) persons employed in any bureau or other organisation established by the State for purposes of intelligence
or counter intelligence; or (d) persons employed in, or in connection with, the telecommunications systems set up
for the purposes of any Force, bureau or organisation referred to in clause (a) to (c), be restricted or abrogated
so as to ensure the proper discharge of their duties and the maintenance of discipline among them.

20
PART C

approach involving military services and national security. The Union

Government is entitled to take into account the inherent dangers involved

in serving in the Army, adverse conditions of service which include an

absence of privacy in field and insurgency areas, maternity issues and

child care. These considerations are not open to judicial review; and

(iv) The scope of judicial review in matters of command/tenure is limited as

held by this Court in Union of India v P K Chaudhary19 (“P K

Choudhary”).

(d) Occupational hazards

29. According to the Union of India, women are not employed on duties which

are hazardous in nature unlike their male counterparts in the same Arm/Service

who are liable to be employed in combat duties. For instance, a male officer in

Army Service Corps undergoes infantry attachment in field areas upon

commissioning and may be posted later to Rashtriya Rifles/Assam Rifles for

counter-insurgency/counter-terrorist operations. The personnel below officer

ranks are similarly engaged in combat roles. A male officer in the engineering

branch would undergo a tenure in the Rashtriya Riffle/Assam Rifles while women

officers are not employed due to the “inherent risks”.

(e) Discrimination

30. There is no discrimination between men and women SSC officers. For

example, male SSC officers are not eligible to opt for an M.Tech course. Women

19
Civil Appeal No 3208 of 2015, decided on 15 February 2016

21
PART C

SSC officers in the JAG branch may avail 180 days of child care leave, while PC

women officers are entitled to avail 360 days owing to the long period of service

expected from them. The Union Government has submitted that the Army faces a

huge management challenge “to manage WOs in soft postings with required

infrastructure, not involving hazardous duties with the regular posts with

the other women in the station”. The Army has to cater for spouse postings,

“long absence on account of maternity leave, child care leave” as a result of

which “the legitimate dues of male officers have to be compromised”.

(f) Ajay Vikram Singh Committee report: SSC as a support cadre

31. The Ajay Vikram Singh Committee20 constituted by the Union Government

to enquire into cadre issues in the Armed Forces favoured a lean permanent

cadre of officers, supplemented by an enhanced support cadre in the ratio 1:1.1

in view of the pyramadical structure of the Indian Army. However, the ratio

between the PC cadre vis-a-vis the SSC cadre is currently skewed at 3.98:1.

Hence, further induction into the PC cadre through the SSC cadre will upset the

organisational structure of the Army.

(g) Employment in staff appointments

32. Since 1992, the Union Government has restricted the eligibility of women

officers to select appointments, as decided from time to time by Army

headquarters. These orders have not been subjected to challenge or been

invalidated. The issue of command appointments was not a lis in the Writ

20
2003-2004

22
PART C

Petitions before the Delhi High Court. Considering matters of organisational

requirement, suitability and performance, women officers granted PC would be

recommended only for staff appointments.

33. Finally, it has been urged by the Union of India that it has re-instated all

women officers covered by the judgment of the Delhi High Court insofar as it

relates to the Army. Those who are not in service either did not join their posts or

had sought release despite the grant of an extension in service. Hence, women

officers who are out of service or are not covered by the judgment of the High

Court cannot seek the benefit of the policy decision dated 25 February 2019. Any

extension of the benefit to a woman officer outside the scope of the policy

decision would (it is urged) “open floodgates for litigation creating serious

administrative issues of cadre management.”

34. In emphasising these submissions of behalf of Union of India, Mr R

Balasubramanian, learned Senior Counsel has in his written note stressed upon

two facets:

(i) The need to protect national security and operational effectiveness; and

(ii) Non-linear battlefield scenarios in future wars.

35. At this stage, it would be necessary to extract from the written note which

has been submitted on behalf of the Union of India. While we will express our

views on the content of the note at a later stage, it is necessary here to extract

certain portions, as they stand:

(i) Under the head of “Exigencies of Service”, the written note of submissions

states:

23
PART C

“The profession of arms is not only a profession but a „way of
life’, which often requires sacrifices and commitment beyond
the call of duty by the entire family of service personnel
involving separation, frequent transfers affecting education of
children and career prospects of the spouse. As a
consequence, it is a greater challenge for WOs to meet these
hazards of service, owing to their prolonged absence during
pregnancy, motherhood and domestic obligations towards
their children and families, especially when both husband and
wife happen to be service officers.”

(ii) Under the head of “Physical Capabilities”, the written note states:

“A soldier relies heavily on his physical prowess to engage in
combat. The officers are expected to lead their men „from the
front’ and need to be in prime physical condition to undertake
combat tasks. Inherent physiological differences (reference
Annexure A) between men and women preclude equal
physical performances resulting in lower physical standards
(reference Annexure B) and hence the physical capacity of
WOs in the IA remain a challenge for command of units.”

(iii) Under the head of “Composition of Rank and File”, the written note states:

“Most of the countries whose armies have women as officers
also have women in their rank and file with the exception of
India, Pakistan and Turkey. This results in a unique „all male’
environment in a unit where presence of WOs requires
moderated behavior in their presence. Posting of WOs in all
male units thus has its own peculiar dynamics.”

(iv) Under the head of “Infrastructure”, the written note states:

“Infrastructure in forward/border areas is very basic with
minimal facilities for habitat and hygiene. Officers and
men have to make do with primitive/make shift arrangements.
Manning forward posts and small detachments with restricted
communication facilities leads to a feeling of isolation.
Deployment of WOs in such situations or places in the current
circumstances is not advisable.”

36. The submission note of the Union of India has spoken of “physiological

limitation” on the employability of women officers “accentuated by the challenges

of confinement, motherhood and childcare”. Finally, the note portends the

24
PART C

dangers of a woman officer being captured by the enemy and becoming a

prisoner of war.

Submissions of the respondents

37. Assailing the above submissions, and in a serious critique of the

submissions adopted by Union of India and the MoD in their perception of women

officers, Ms Meenakshi Lekhi, learned Counsel and Ms Aishwarya Bhati, learned

Senior Counsel have joined issue. The attention of the Court has been drawn to

the total strength of and shortage of officers in the Army on date, as reflected in

the following table:

DETAILS OF OFFICERS IN INDIAN ARMY

Auth Officers Held Officers Shortage

50266 40825 including 1653 9441

Women Officers

Besides, 157 male officers between the age group of fifty-four and fifty-eight

years have been re-employed after their retirement. The cadre structure of

women officers serving in the Indian Army is indicated in the following table:

DETAILS OF WOMEN OFFICERS IN INDIAN ARMY

Present Holding Above 20 Yrs Between 14-20 Yrs Fate Undecided

1653 77 255 332

38. Women officers form a miniscule four per cent of the total strength of

commissioned officers in the Army. Ms Lekhi submitted that the Union

25
PART C

Government instituted the present proceedings under Article 136 of the

Constitution in 2010 and in spite of there being no stay on the implementation of

the judgment of the Delhi High Court, no steps were taken to grant PCs to

women officers in the Army in compliance with the judgment of the Delhi High

Court. Ms Lekhi submitted that this is based on the pre-dominant fear of male

officers representing ninety-six per cent of the overall strength that four per cent

of the officers who are women would “eat away vacancies” in the higher ranks.

However, it has been submitted that the reality is different since higher rank

vacancies genuinely due to the 322 competent women officers have been taken

away for promoting male officers. Ms Lekhi has addressed this Court about the

conventional bias against the women officers in the Army. Women officers have

served the organisation for almost twenty-five years and the battle is against

mind-sets. Dealing with the factors which have been stressed by the Union of

India, the written note submitted by Ms Lekhi contains the following explanations:

(i) Battlefield Scenario: The Army considers women officers as an effective

workforce until they complete fourteen years of service. The nature of

duties is similar to male officers. Having served shoulder to shoulder with

male officers for twenty-five years, the contention advanced by the Union

of India with respect to battlefield scenarios lacks substance;

(ii) Unit cohesion: The Union of India has alleged that the presence of

women has a negative impact on unit cohesion. It is time that the

organisation starts accepting women as equal colleagues; and

(iii) National security: Despite the present batch of appeals being sub judice

for ten years, women officers of all ages and service profiles are still being

26
PART C

posted to sensitive places, field areas, force head-quarters and units

without being commissioned into combat arms;

39. Ms Lekhi urged that women officers on SSC have suffered from serious

discrimination comprising of:

(i) Lack of opportunity for professional growth;

(ii) Absence of job security due to the ambiguous status of the cadre; and

(iii) Rendering service under Junior Officers due to the lack of a uniform

and equal promotion policy.

40. In other words, women officers have been left in the lurch without

pensionary and promotional benefits at par with their male counterparts despite

having dedicated prime years of their lives to the service of the nation.

Submissions based on the policy letter dated 25 February 2019

41. Ms Meenakshi Lekhi and Ms Aishwarya Bhati have highlighted, during the

course of their submissions, the following aspects of the policy letter dated 25

February 2019 which are discriminatory:

(i) In response to para 4: Male SSC officers are required to exercise their

option for the grant of PC prior to the completion of ten years of service.

SSC women officers are required to exercise their option on the

completion of three years of service and prior to the completion of four

years of service. With comparatively lesser experience at the stage when

they are required to exercise an option, women officers lack adequate

27
PART C

experience to take a considered decision and the possibility of being

granted PC is comparatively lower;

(ii) In response to para 6: Restricting SSC women officers only to staff

appointments is to prevent their career growth by restraining them within

vacancy restrictions, promotions and placements; and

(iii) In response to para 9: Application of the policy prospectively is designed

to keep away senior women officers outside the ambit of PC. The Army is

misconstruing the prospective application of the policy to give the benefit

to women officers inducted after the date of the policy. On the other hand,

for the JAG and AEC officers, the prospective application has been

interpreted by the Army to grant benefit to officers who were in service on

the date of the issuance of the policy.

42. It was further contended that posting women officers in staff appointments

in the select rank of Colonel under the aegis of MS-1 and MS-3 will equate them

with re-employed, low medical category and non-empaneled male officers.

Refuting the argument on command appointments, it has been submitted that

there are several command roles that do not require any special training

including:

(i) NCC Battalions (there are more than 100 girl battalions which are

currently being commanded by male officers);

      (ii)       Record officers;

(iii) Training regiments;

(iv) Commandants of Sainik schools and Military schools; and

28
PART C

(v) Provost unit commanding officers as provosts are pioneering the

induction of women combatants.

Meeting the submissions advanced by the Union Government, the respondents

have filed a counter affidavit contending that:

(i) Services in which women officers have been inducted as SSC women

officers are not combative in nature. The job profile includes supporting the

combat arms segment and assisting in providing, maintaining and repairing

the logistic support. The respondents were inducted in the Army against

specified appointments with specific eligibility qualifications such as food

scientists, material managers, software engineers and linguistic officers.

These postings cannot be compared with the combat arms of the Army.

The present case has not been instituted seeking either recruitment or

commission into combat arms as this is a conscious decision of the Union

Government and is a matter of policy;

(ii) The nature of duty which a commissioned officer is required to perform

while serving in the Corps is defined in the Army Manuals of these

services. Both women and male officers who were commissioned in these

services perform similar duties, undergo similar professional courses and

training and are posted to all field/peace postings according to their

profiles. There is no separate charter of duties for women officers or SSC

commissioned male officers and PC male officers. Women officers

commissioned in various corps are assigned duties similar to male officers

(SSC or PC) and commissioned into the same corps;

29
PART C

(iii) The claim of the appellant that there is a probability of women officers

being exposed to a hostile environment where there is a grave danger of

their coming in contact with the enemy is discriminatory and without any

basis. The women officers have been and are regularly being posted by

the Indian Army to all possible field units (combat zones) where male

officers from the same corps are also serving. Consequently, the Army

follows a policy of non-discrimination when it comes to postings but does

not follow the same when it comes to granting PC to its women officers.

Thirty percent of all women officers are posted in the field (combat zones);

(iv) Based on the response to a question raised in the Lok Sabha, as on 16

August 2010, there is an acute shortage of 11,500 officers in the Indian

Army out of which approximately 5,115 officers are deficient in the support

services in which women officers have been commissioned. Despite the

deficiency of officers in the support services, the Indian Army is letting go

of trained women officers due to gender discrimination and not granting

PCs to women officers. To overcome the shortage of officers, the Army

has given re-employment to retired male officers of the rank of Colonel or

below at the age of superannuation (54-58 years) for a period of four

years. The vacancies in the Indian Army can be easily handled by women

officers;

(v) Women officers undergo training for all mandatory courses which other

SSC male officers also undertake. However, only male officers are eligible

to seek PCs. Women officers also undergo the Junior Command Course

30
PART C

which is mandatory to train army officers to discharge their responsibilities

as Lieutenant Colonels;

(vi) No rule of the Indian Army prescribes that officers seeking PC have to

compulsorily be given command of troops. A command position is given

only to those officers who clear their promotion Board based on an

efficiency metric. Male officers (SSC or PC) who are not found fit for

promotion to the rank of Colonel are accommodated in the staff

appointments. Similarly, if women officers are found fit and deserving for

the rank of Colonel, they may be promoted to the next rank or be allowed

to continue in the manner other non-empaneled PC male officers are

presently allowed;

(vii) The willingness of the Indian Army to grant PC to women officers of only

AEC and JAG branches, stating that these are non-combative roles is not

true as these two corps do not have a „unit‟ like organizational structure

and both men and women officers are not offered command positions; and

(viii) In addition to the discriminatory nature of the policy with respect to the

grant of PC, the policies for women officers in the Army also lowers their

status to that of a jawan/JCO. A woman officer working for fourteen years

is neither given pension nor retirement benefits. Details of the treatment

meted out to women officers in the Army in comparison with PC, SSC male

officers/ jawans and JCOs is tabulated as follows:

Pension Ex- Ex- Re- Encashment
Servicemen Servicemen employment of Leave
Status Contributory
Health

31
PART D

Scheme
PC Pensionable Yes Yes Yes Paid for 300
Male after 20 days
Officers years encashed
leave
Jawan/ Pensionable Yes Yes Yes Paid for 300
JCO after 15 days
years encashed
leave
SSC No pension No ESM No ECHS No provision Paid only for
Women status facility of re- 90 days
Officers employment encashed
leave
SSC SSC Gentlemen officers are all together in a different category, as they
Male are allowed to opt for permanent commission after 5/10 years of service

Officers and once they get permanent commission, they are authorised for all
benefits of permanent commission officers.

43. The rival submissions fall for consideration.

D Consequence of the policy letter dated 25 February 2019

44. Article 33 of the Constitution empowers Parliament to determine by law the

extent to which the rights conferred by Part III of the Constitution shall be

restricted/abrogated in their application inter alia to the members of the Armed

Forces so as to ensure the proper discharge of their duties and the maintenance

of discipline among them. The impact of Article 33 is to enable Parliament to limit

or abrogate the fundamental rights in their application to the members of the

Armed forces. But such a restriction or abrogation must be by law. Moreover, the

restriction or abrogation must be enacted to ensure the proper discharge of

duties and the maintenance of discipline.

32
PART D

45. Several decisions of this Court have dealt with Article 33 of the

Constitution in relation to the Armed Forces. In Ram Sarup v Union of India,21

the petitioner, a sepoy in 131 Platoon DSC, was charged under Section 69 of the

1950 Act read with Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code 1908. A sentence of

death was awarded by the General Court Martial which was confirmed by the

Union Government. A number of contentions were raised for challenging the

provisions of the 1950 Act as well as the method in which the trial was

conducted. A Constitution Bench of this Court rejected the challenge and upheld

the sentence. In the course of the judgment, Justice Raghubar Dayal, writing for

the Bench, held:

“15. …The learned Attorney-General has urged that the entire
Act has been enacted by parliament and if any of the
provisions of the Act are not consistent with the provision of
any of the articles in Part III of the Constitution, it must be
taken that to the extent of the inconsistency Parliament had
modified the fundamental rights under those articles in their
application to the person subject to that Act. Any such
provision in the Act is as much law as the entire Act. We
agree that each and every provision of the Act is a law made
by Parliament and that if any such provision tends to affect
the fundamental right under Part III of the Constitution, that
provision does not, on that account become void, as it must
be taken that Parliament has thereby, in the exercise of its
power under Article 33 of the Constitution, made the requisite
modification to affect the respective fundamental right. We
are however of opinion that the provisions or Section 125 of
the Act are not discriminatory and do not infringe the
provisions of Article 14 of the Constitution.”

This Court held that the 1950 Act was enacted in pursuance of the enabling

power conferred upon Parliament by Article 33 of the Constitution and is entitled

to protection despite the restrictions imposed by its provisions on the

21
(1964) 5 SCR 931

33
PART D

fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The Court held that the

provisions of the 1950 Act formed an inherent part of the legislation and having

been enacted in pursuance of the power conferred by Article 33, they would not

be declared void to the extent they restricted or abrogated the guarantee of

fundamental rights to members of the Armed Forces.

46. In Lt. Col. Prithi Pal Singh Bedi v Union of India22, the legality of orders

convening a General Court Martial and its composition was questioned. It was

contended that trial by a Court Martial would result in the deprivation of personal

liberty, which can only be done in consonance with Article 21 of the Constitution.

It was contended that any restriction must be by procedure established by law

and the law prescribing such procedure must satisfy the test prescribed by

Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution. Justice D A Desai, writing for a three judge

Bench of this Court noted the competing interests that must be considered in

matters concerning the Armed Forces in the following terms:

“14. While investigating and precisely ascertaining the limits
of inroads or encroachments made by legislation enacted in
exercise of power conferred by Article 33, on the guaranteed
fundamental rights to all citizens of this country without
distinction, in respect of armed personnel, the court should be
vigilant to hold the balance between two conflicting public
interests; namely necessity of discipline in armed personnel
to preserve national security at any cost, because that itself
would ensure enjoyment of fundamental rights by others, and
the denial to those responsible for national security of these
very fundamental rights which are inseparable adjuncts of
civilised life…”

The Court held that the public interest in the maintenance and preparedness of

the Armed Forces of the nation has to be weighed with an equally compelling

22
(1982) 3 SCC 140

34
PART D

public interest in balancing the abrogation or restriction of fundamental rights of

the officers in the Armed Forces. For this reason, Article 33 specifies that any

restriction imposed must be by law and in order to ensure the proper discharge of

their duties and the maintenance of discipline among them. The Court rejected

the challenge and held:

“…Article 33 does not obligate that Parliament must
specifically adumbrate each fundamental right enshrined in
Part III and to specify in the law enacted in exercise of the
power conferred by Article 33 the degree of restriction or total
abrogation of each right. That would be reading into Article 33
a requirement which it does not enjoin…it is not possible to
accept the submission that the law prescribing procedure for
trial of offences by court martial must satisfy the requirement
of Article 21 because to the extent the procedure is
prescribed by law and if it stands in derogation of Article 21,
to that extent Article 21 in its application to the Armed Forces
is modified by enactment of the procedure in the Army Act
itself.”

47. In R Viswan v Union of India,23 one of the issues concerned whether

Section 21 of the Army Act, 1950 read with Chapter IV of the Army Rules, 1954 is

within the scope and ambit of Article 33 of the Constitution. Section 21 empowers

the Central Government by notification to make rules restricting “to such extent

and in such manner as may be necessary” certain fundamental rights in their

application to persons subject to the 1950 Act. Justice P N Bhagwati (as the

learned Chief Justice then was), speaking for a Constitution Bench of this Court

held:

“A plain reading thus would reveal that the extent of
restrictions necessary to be imposed on any of the
fundamental rights in their application to the armed forces and
the forces charged with the maintenance of public order for
the purpose of ensuring proper discharge of their duties and
maintenance of discipline among them would necessarily
depend upon the prevailing situation at a given point of time
and it would be inadvisable to encase it in a rigid statutory

23
(1983) 3 SCC 401

35
PART D

formula. The Constitution-makers were obviously anxious
that no more restrictions should be placed than are
absolutely necessary for ensuring proper discharge of
duties and the maintenance of discipline amongst the
armed force personnel and therefore Article 33
empowered Parliament to restrict or abridge within
permissible extent, the rights conferred under Part III of
the Constitution insofar as the armed force personnel are
concerned.”

(Emphasis supplied)

The Court noted that restrictions imposed upon fundamental rights in exercise of

the power conferred by Article 33 must be “absolutely necessary for ensuring

proper discharge of duties and the maintenance of discipline”. The Court held:

“…Parliament was therefore within its power under Article 33
to enact Section 21 laying down to what extent the Central
Government may restrict the Fundamental Rights under
clauses (a), (b) and (c) of Article 19 (1), of any person subject
to the Army Act, 1950, every such person being clearly a
member of the Armed Forces… The guideline for determining
as to which restrictions should be considered necessary by
the Central Government within the permissible extent
determined by Parliament is provided in Article 33 itself,
namely, that the restrictions should be such as are necessary
for ensuring the proper discharge of their duties by the
members of the Armed Forces and the maintenance of
discipline among them. The Central Government has to keep
this guideline before it in exercising the power of imposing
restrictions under Section 21 …”

This Court, in upholding Section 21 of the 1950 Act, held that the exercise of

such power must necessarily conform to the restrictions inherent in Article 33 of

Constitution.

48. None of the above cases were rendered in the context of Section 12 of the

1950 Act. The present case requires an assessment of the implication of a

specific provision restricting the entry of women into the Armed Forces on one

hand and the steps taken by the Union Government to grant PCs to women SSC

officers in streams in which they have been commissioned.

36
PART D

49. Section 12 of the 1950 Act embodies the principle that a woman would be

eligible for enrolment or employment only in such corps, departments, branches

or bodies forming part of or attached to the regular Army upon and to the extent

notified by the Central Government. In other words, the eligibility of women for

enrollment or engagement in the regular Army is conditional on a provision being

made by the Central Government in terms of the enabling provision of Section

12.

50. The engagement of women officers in the Army has been an evolutionary

process. As we have seen, women officers were initially inducted in the year

1992 under the WSES, for a period of five years. This was extended for a further

period of five years. On the incorporation of a provision for SSCs for women

officers, options were granted to those amongst them who had been engaged

under the earlier scheme to become SSC officers. As a part of the pool of officers

engaged as SSC officers, the tenure was extended to fourteen years with a

provision for due promotions while in service. Following the judgment of the Delhi

High Court, the Union Government was under a mandate to grant PCs to women

officers, to the exclusion of the Combat Arms, and at par with the grant of PCs to

their male counterparts. Significantly, the judgment of the Delhi High Court was

not stayed by this Court at any stage, though there was a direction that no

coercive steps would be initiated on the basis of the judgment in appeal. A

direction by this Court not to initiate coercive steps is distinct from a stay on the

operation of the judgment. There was no reason or justification for the Union

Government not to act upon the directions that were issued by the Delhi High

37
PART D

Court, particularly, in the absence of a stay on the operation and enforcement of

the judgment. The Union Government continued to thwart implementation despite

the order of this Court dated 2 September 2011 clarifying that “the operation of

the impugned judgment is not stayed at all.” Scant regard has been paid to

the Delhi High Court and to this Court as well. Eventually, nearly nine years after

the judgment, the Union Government has communicated a policy circular dated

25 February 2019 by which a decision has been taken to grant women officers

PC in eight Arms/Services, in addition to the existing streams of JAG and AEC.

Thus, as a matter of policy, the Union Government has taken a decision to allow

for the grant of PCs in all the ten streams in which women officers were currently

being commissioned as SSC officers.

51. The decision of the Union Government to allow PCs to women officers in

all the ten streams where they are being inducted as SSC officers substantially

renders redundant the submission of Mr Balasubramanian, learned Senior

Counsel, based on the provisions of Section 12 of the Army Act. Section 12

contemplates that women will be eligible for enrollment only in those segments of

the Army where the Union Government has, by notification, permitted their

enrollment and engagement. Even on a textual interpretation of Section 12 as it

stands, it is evident that the policy decision dated 25 February 2019 of the Union

Government has allowed for the grant of consideration of PCs to commissioned

women officers in all the ten streams which have been notified.

52. The policy decision of the Union Government is a recognition of the right of

women officers to equality of opportunity. One facet of that right is the principle of

38
PART E

non-discrimination on the ground of sex which is embodied in Article 15(1) of the

Constitution. The second facet of the right is equality of opportunity for all citizens

in matters of public employment under Article 16(1). The policy statement of the

Union Government must therefore be construed as a decision which enforces the

fundamental right of women to seek access to public appointment and to equality

of opportunity in matters of engagement relating to the Army. The fundamental

right is recognised in the specified streams where women are permitted to seek

engagement as equal members of the Armed force that the Indian Army

represents. With the Union Government having recognised the induction of

permanently commissioned women officers in its policy decision dated 25

February 2019, we are of the opinion that the submissions which have been

made by the Union of India betray a lack of understanding of the plain

consequences of the decision. The decision of the Union Government to extend

the grant of PC to other corps in the support arms and services recognizes that

the physiological features of a woman have no significance to her equal

entitlements under the Constitution.

E Stereotypes and women in the Armed Forces

53. Seventy years after the birth of a post-colonial independent state, there is

still a need for change in attitudes and mindsets to recognize the commitment to

the values of the Constitution. This is evident from the submissions which were

placed as a part of the record of this Court. Repeatedly, in the course of the

submissions, this Court has been informed that:

39
PART E

(i) The profession of Arms is a way of life which requires sacrifice and

commitment beyond the call of duty;

(ii) Women officers must deal with pregnancy, motherhood and domestic

obligations towards their children and families and may not be well suited

to the life of a soldier in the Armed force;

(iii) A soldier must have the physical capability to engage in combat and

inherent in the physiological differences between men and women is the

lowering of standards applicable to women;

(iv) An all-male environment in a unit would require „moderated behavior‟ in the

presence of women officers;

(v) The “physiological limitations” of women officers are accentuated by

challenges of confinement, motherhood and child care; and

(vi) The deployment of women officers is not advisable in areas where

members of the Armed forces are confronted with “minimal facility for

habitat and hygiene”.

54. The submissions advanced in the note tendered to this Court are based on

sex stereotypes premised on assumptions about socially ascribed roles of gender

which discriminate against women. Underlying the statement that it is a “greater

challenge” for women officers to meet the hazards of service “owing to their

prolonged absence during pregnancy, motherhood and domestic obligations

towards their children and families” is a strong stereotype which assumes that

domestic obligations rest solely on women. Reliance on the “inherent

physiological differences between men and women” rests in a deeply entrenched

stereotypical and constitutionally flawed notion that women are the „weaker‟ sex

40
PART E

and may not undertake tasks that are „too arduous‟ for them. Arguments founded

on the physical strengths and weaknesses of men and women and on

assumptions about women in the social context of marriage and family do not

constitute a constitutionally valid basis for denying equal opportunity to women

officers. To deny the grant of PCs to women officers on the ground that this

would upset the “peculiar dynamics” in a unit casts an undue burden on women

officers which has been claimed as a ground for excluding women. The written

note also relies on the “minimal facilities for habitat and hygiene” as a ground for

suggesting that women officers in the services must not be deployed in conflict

zones. The respondents have placed on record that 30% of the total women

officers are in fact deputed to conflict areas.

55. These assertions which we have extracted bodily from the written

submissions which have been tendered before this Court only go to emphasise

the need for change in mindsets to bring about true equality in the Army. If

society holds strong beliefs about gender roles – that men are socially dominant,

physically powerful and the breadwinners of the family and that women are weak

and physically submissive, and primarily caretakers confined to a domestic

atmosphere – it is unlikely that there would be a change in mindsets. Confronted

on the one hand with a solemn policy decision taken by the Union Government

allowing for the grant of PC to women SSC officers in ten streams, we have yet

on the other hand a whole baseless line of submissions solemenly made to this

Court to detract from the vital role that has been played by women SSC officers

in the line of duty.

41
PART E

56. The counter affidavit contains a detailed elaboration of the service which

has been rendered by women SSC officers to the cause of the nation, working

shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. Yet, that role is sought to be

diluted by the repeated pleas made before this Court that women, by the nature

of their biological composition and social milieu have a less important role to play

than their male counterparts. Such a line of submission is disturbing as it ignores

the solemn constitutional values which every institution in the nation is bound to

uphold and facilitate. Women officers of the Indian Army have brought laurels to

the force. These are documented in the course of proceedings and have not

been controverted in the submissions. Some of the distinctions which women

officers have achieved are catalogued below:

(i) Lieutenant Colonel Sophia Qureshi (Army Signal Corps) is the first

woman to lead an Indian Army contingent at a multi-national military

exercise named „Exercise Force 18‟ which is the largest ever foreign

military exercise hosted by India. She has served in the United

Nations Peacekeeping Operation in Congo in 2006 where she,

along with others, was in charge of monitoring ceasefires in those

countries and aiding in humanitarian activities. Her job included

ensuring peace in conflict affected areas;

(ii) Lieutenant Colonel Anuvandana Jaggi served as the Women‟s

Team Leader of the United Nations Military Observers Team in the

UN mission in Burundi. She was awarded the United Nations Force

Commander‟s Commendation and an Appreciation Epistle from the

Chief of Army Staff for her commendable effort;

42

PART E

(iii) Major Madhumita (Army Education Corps) is the first woman officer

in the country to receive the Gallantry Award (Sena Medal) for

fighting Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan. Despite adversity, she

continued and her speedy rescue and evacuation efforts saved

many lives; and

(iv) Lieutenant Bhavana Kasturi recently led a contingent of the Indian

Army Service Corps, becoming the first woman to lead an all-men

Army contingent in the history of India. Similarly, Captain Tania

Shergill recently became first Indian woman Parade Adjutant to lead

an all-men contingent in New Delhi on 15 Janurary, 2020;

(v) In September 2010, the Sword of Honour in the Officers Training

Academy, Chennai (the only training center for SSC male and

female officers) was given to Lieutenant A Divya amongst 170 male

officers and 57 women officers.

(vi) By a letter24 dated 8 September 2009, women officers were also

made part of the Quick Reaction Teams, where women and male

officers perform similar duties;

(vii) The Indian Army entrusts women officers with complex tasks of

transporting convoys of between thirty to fifty vehicles in militant

prone areas in Leh, Srinagar, Udhampur and the North East. An

example was provided of the movement order from Leh to

Pathankot dated 15 September 2010 issued to one of the

respondents, Major Gopika Bhatti who, in the role of a convoy

24
10620/Sect/EME

43
PART E

commander, handled junior commissioned officers, jawans (drivers

and supporting staff), vehicles (filled with logistics, arms and

ammunitions) and other military equipment;

(viii) Major Gopika Ajitsingh Pawar was awarded the United Nations

Peacekeeping Medal by the Secretary General of the United

Nations in recognition of her role as a military member of the United

Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.

(ix) Major Madhu Rana, Preeti Singh and Anuja Yadav were awarded

the United Nation Medal completing the qualifying service as military

members of the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic

of Congo.

(x) Captain Ashwini Pawar (Army Ordinance Corps) and Captain Shipra

Majumdar (Army Engineer Corps) were awarded the Sewa Medal by

the President of India in 2007; and

(xi) Women officers from the Indian Army have been participating in the

UN Peace Keeping Force since 2004 and have been deployed in

active combat scenarios in Syria, Lebanon, Ethiopia and Israel.

Numerous other commendation certificates and laurels achieved by women

officers have been placed on record. Their track record of service to the nation is

beyond reproach. To cast aspersion on their abilities on the ground of gender is

an affront not only to their dignity as women but to the dignity of the members of

the Indian Army – men and women – who serve as equal citizens in a common

mission.

44
PART F

57. Courts are indeed conscious of the limitations which issues of national

security and policy impose on the judicial evolution of doctrine in matters relating

to the Armed forces. For this reason, we have noticed that the engagement of

women in the Combat Arms has been specifically held to be a matter of policy by

the judgment of the Delhi High Court and which is not in question in the present

appeals. At the same time, we have adverted in some detail to the line of

submissions urged before this Court. These submissions detract from the

significant role which has been played by women SSC commissioned officers

since their induction in 1992. The time has come for a realization that women

officers in the Army are not adjuncts to a male dominated establishment whose

presence must be “tolerated” within narrow confines. That in our view is not the

manner in which the steps taken progressively by the Union Government to bring

women into the mainstream of the Army (except the Combat Arms) can be

viewed. The salient decision of the Union Government to extend PCs to women

SSC officers in all ten streams in which they are commissioned is a step forward

in recognising and realising the right of women to equality of opportunity in the

Army. This marks a step towards realising the fundamental constitutional

commitment to the equality and dignity of women.

F Consequence of non-compliance

58. The proposal which has been submitted before this Court by the Union

Government involves a three-stage assessment of women SSC officers for the

grant of PCs. A distinction has been made in the proposal between women

officers who have been in service for a period of less than fourteen years and

45
PART F

those beyond. The proposal envisages that only those women officers with less

than fourteen years of service would be considered for the grant of PCs. Under

the terms of this proposal, women officers with more than fourteen years of

service but less than twenty years of service would continue until they attain

pensionable service of twenty years, without the grant of PCs. Women officers

who have crossed twenty years‟ service would be discharged from service

immediately subject to receipt of pension. The proposal has been commended for

acceptance to this Court on the ground that it allows women officers who have

crossed fourteen years of service to receive pensionary benefits, where such

benefit would otherwise not be available to them.

59. There is fundamental fallacy in the distinction which has been sought to be

drawn between women officers with less than fourteen years of service with

those with service between fourteen and twenty years and above twenty years.

The judgment of the Delhi High Court was rendered on 12 March 2010. Nearly a

decade has elapsed since the date of the decision. The Union Government was

duty bound to enforce the judgment of the Delhi High Court, the judgment not

having been stayed during the pendency of these appeals. However, it failed to

do so despite the categoric assertion by this Court in its order dated 2 September

2011 that what was stayed as an interim measure is the action for contempt and

not the operation of the judgment. Having failed to enforce the judgment, the

Union Government has now informed the Court that it would not consider women

officers who have crossed the age of fourteen years in service as SSC officers for

the grant of PCs. This situation of women officers with service above fourteen

years has come to pass plainly as a consequence of the failure of the Union

46
PART F

Government to comply not only with the directions of the Delhi High Court but

also those which were issued by this Court on 2 September 2011. In this view of

the matter, we see no reason or justification to deprive SSC women officers of

the grant of PCs on the ground that they have crossed fourteen years of service.

60. The failure of the government to implement the judgment of the Delhi High

Court has caused irreparable prejudice to the women officers. Over the

chequered history of the litigation of the past decade, they have lost the benefit of

promotions and the assumption of higher responsibilities as members of the

Armed Force. To turn around now and inform them that they will lose the

entitlement of being considered for the grant of PCs would be a travesty of

justice. We are accordingly of the view that SSC women officers, both within the

period of fourteen years‟ service and beyond, should equally be entitled to

consideration for the grant of PCs.

61. The policy decision which has been taken by the Union Government on 25

February 2019 indicates that it is to apply prospectively. It is necessary for this

Court to clarify that the prospective application of the decision does not mean that

it would apply to women officers who have been appointed as SSCs officers after

the date of the decision. The Union Government has not applied it in such a

manner, which is evident from the fact that the decision contemplates that women

officers already in service but with less than fourteen years would be entitled to

be considered. We therefore clarify that the policy decision will apply to all

women SSC officers who are currently in service irrespective of the length of

service which has been rendered by them.

47
PART F

62. Mr R Balasubramanian, learned Senior Counsel relied on the judgment of

this Court in P K Choudhary to contend that the scope of judicial review in

matters of command/tenure is limited. In that case, pursuant to the suggestions of

the Ajay Vikram Singh Committee25 to lower of the age profile of officers in the

Indian Army and create 1484 additional vacancies in the rank of Colonel, the

Union Government sanctioned an additional 1484 vacancies which were to be

allocated in two separate phases. In the first phase, 750 vacancies were

sanctioned by the upgradation of appointments in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel

to Colonel which were to be distributed across the three service branches of the

Army – Combat, Combat Support and Services. However, in the second phase,

the Union Government sanctioned the remaining 734 vacancies to be allocated

on a „Command Exit Model‟ which was claimed to be in consonance with the

functional and operational requirements of the Army. Aggrieved by the denial of a

pro rata share of the vacancies sanctioned in the second phase, the respondents,

who were inducted in the Services Corps, challenged the action of the Union

Government.

63. The Union Government contended that the recommendations of the AVS

Committee were limited to officers in the Combat and Combat Support Arms only

and did not extend to the Services‟ Arms. It was further contended that the

„Command Exit Model‟ for allocation of vacancies was neither discriminatory nor

arbitrary, but in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee. A two

judge Bench of this Court rejected the claim of the respondents. Mr R

Balasubramanian sought to rely on the judgment to contend that courts must

25
“AVS Committee”

48
PART F

refrain from questions concerning the Armed Forces as they constitute matters of

policy in which courts cannot interfere.

64. It is necessary to observe the rationale underlying the judgment in P K

Choudhary. The Court noted that the AVS Committee did not take into account

vacancies for Colonels in the Corps of Services. The Court concluded that the

Committee did not recommend a reduction in the age profile of Unit Commanders

in Army Signal Corps, Army Ordinance Corps and other Minor Corps. Thus, the

argument urged by the respondents that the recommendations of the Committee

to create vacancies was for the benefit of officers serving in all streams, was

rejected. The Court further noted that the recommendation of AVS Committee to

adopt the „Command Exit Model‟ was accepted by the Government.

Consequently, merely because the earlier allocation was not reversed, this would

not affect the binding nature of the government‟s decision to allocate vacancies

on the basis of the „Command Exit Model‟. The Court held:

“28…If the Army Headquarters committed a mistake in
allocating vacancies on a pro rata basis contrary to the
recommendations and the decision of the Government, any
such error cannot adversely effect officers servings in Arms
and Arms Support who may have been entitled to a higher
number of vacancies in the second tranche but who were
deprived of such allocation on account of the error in the
previous allocation made on pro rata basis.”

This apart, the Court rejected a claim of legitimate expectation by the

respondents in the following terms:

“58…There is nothing perverse, unreasonable or unfair about
the policy that the age of officers serving in Combat Arms and
Combat Arms Support will be lowered by creating additional
vacancies to be allotted on Command Exit Model. In the
absence of any perversity, unreasonableness or unfairness in
the policy so introduced, there is no reason to allow the

49
PART G

argument based on legitimate expectation to unsettle or undo
the policy which is otherwise laudable…”

65. The judgment of this Court in P K Choudhary was based on the specific

recommendations of the AVS Committee as well as the actions of the Union

Government in committing to a course of action for the allocation of vacancies.

This Court observed that the first phase of allocation was clearly contrary to both

the recommendations of the AVS Committee as well as the method of allocation

adopted by the Union Government. The Court additionally observed that the

method of allocation in the second phase did not suffer from any perversity,

unreasonableness or unfairness.

66. As we have noted before, courts are conscious of the limitations which

questions of policy impose on judicial intervention in matters relating to the

Armed Forces. At the same time, faced with a salient decision of the Union

Government to extend to all women SSC officers the option for the grant of PCs

as well as the situation which has come to pass due to the non-implementation of

the binding directions of the Delhi High Court as well as this Court, non-

intervention in the present matter would be nothing short of a travesty of justice.

G Blanket restriction on criteria appointments

67. The next aspect of the policy decision relates to the restriction which has

been imposed on women officers being granted PCs save and except for staff

appointments. Such a restriction was not imposed when the JAG and AEC

branches were opened up for the grants of PCs for women SSC officers in the

past. The consequence of this, is an implicit acceptance by the Army that women

50
PART G

can, in certain situations, receive criteria or command appointments. An absolute

bar on women seeking criteria or command appointments would not comport with

the guarantee of equality under Article 14. Implicit in the guarantee of equality is

that where the action of the State does differentiate between two classes of

persons, it does not differentiate them in an unreasonable or irrational manner. In

this sense, even at its bare minimum, the right to equality is a right to rationality.

Where the State, and in this case the Army as an instrumentality of the State,

differentiates between women and men, the burden falls squarely on the Army to

justify such differentiation with reason. An absolute prohibition of women SSC

officers to obtain anything but staff appointments evidently does not fulfill the

purpose of granting PCs as a means of career advancement in the Army.

Whether a particular candidate should or should not be granted a criteria or

command assignment is a matter for the competent authority to consider having

regard to all the exigencies of service, performance and organisational

requirements. In the present case the Army has provided no justification in

discharging its burden as to why women across the board should not be

considered for any criteria or command appointments. Command assignments

are not automatic for men SSC officers who are granted PC and would not be

automatic for women either. The absolute exclusion of women from all others

except staff assignments in indefensible. If the army has cogent reasons for

excluding women from a particular criteria or command appointment, it may

provide them to the relevant authorities and if necessary, to future courts.

However, such a justification must take place on a case-to-case basis, in light of

the requirements and exigencies of a particular appointment. The blanket non-

51
PART H

consideration of women for criteria or command appointments absent an

individuated justification by the Army cannot be sustained in law.

68. We therefore hold that the expression “in various staff appointments only”

in paragraph 5 and that “on staff appointments only” in paragraph 6 of the

communication dated 25 February 2019 shall not be enforced. We have already

adverted to the submission which was urged on behalf of the women officers by

Ms Lekhi that there are various command assignments in which there would be

no reason or justification for excluding women. This is a matter for the

determination of the relevant authority.

H Directions

69. We accordingly take on record the statement of policy placed on the record

in these proceedings by the Union Government in the form of the letter dated 25

February 2019 and issue the following directions:

(i) The policy decision which has been taken by the Union Government

allowing for the grant of PCs to SSC women officers in all the ten

streams where women have been granted SSC in the Indian Army is

accepted subject to the following:

(a) All serving women officers on SSC shall be considered for the

grant of PCs irrespective of any of them having crossed fourteen

years or, as the case may be, twenty years of service;

(b) The option shall be granted to all women presently in service as

SSC officers;

52

PART H

(c) Women officers on SSC with more than fourteen years of service

who do not opt for being considered for the grant of the PCs will

be entitled to continue in service until they attain twenty years of

pensionable service;

(d) As a one-time measure, the benefit of continuing in service until

the attainment of pensionable service shall also apply to all the

existing SSC officers with more than fourteen years of service

who are not appointed on PC;

(e) The expression “in various staff appointments only” in para 5 and

“on staff appointments only” in para 6 shall not be enforced;

(f) SSC women officers with over twenty years of service who are

not granted PC shall retire on pension in terms of the policy

decision; and

(g) At the stage of opting for the grant of PC, all the choices for

specialisation shall be available to women officers on the same

terms as for the male SSC officers. Women SSC officers shall be

entitled to exercise their options for being considered for the

grant of PCs on the same terms as their male counterparts.

(ii) We affirm the clarification which has been issued in sub-para (i) of

paragraph 61 of the impugned judgment and order of the Delhi High

Court; and

(iii) SSC women officers who are granted PC in pursuance of the above

directions will be entitled to all consequential benefits including

promotion and financial benefits. However, these benefits would be

53
PART H

made available to those officers in service or those who had moved the

Delhi High Court by filing the Writ Petitions and those who had retired

during the course of the pendency of the proceedings.

70. Necessary steps for compliance with this judgment shall be taken within

three months from the date of this judgment.

71. We accordingly dispose of the appeals. However, there shall be no order

as to costs.

…………...…...….......………………........J.

[Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud]

…..…..…....…........……………….…........J.

[Ajay Rastogi]

New Delhi;

February 17, 2020

54

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