The first batch of girls should be allowed to take the National Defence Academy (NDA) exams this year, on November 14, the Supreme Court said today, rejecting the government's request to defer the move until next year. "We gave hope to the girls. We cannot deny them that hope now," said the judges.
The "no exam today, exam tomorrow" approach would go against the aspirations of young women, the court said.
The government had suggested that the first-ever women candidates for NDA take the exams in May next year. There was too little time this year, the government had told the court.
"The armed forces have dealt with very difficult situations and emergencies. They are trained in dealing with emergencies. And they will be able to deal with this," the Supreme Court responded firmly.
"If they appear in exams in May 2022 then the intake will take place in January 2023. We cannot delay things by a year," said Justices SK Kaul and BR Gavai.
The entry of women into the NDA is their gateway to permanent commission in the armed forces.
In a watershed earlier this month, the government told the Supreme Court women could now sit for the NDA entrance exam.
"It is a delight to share this. Women will be admitted in the NDA," Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, representing the Centre, had said.
This was after the court underlined a "mindset problem" and "gender discrimination" when it came to equal service opportunities for men and women in the armed forces.
A petition had argued that the categorical exclusion of eligible female candidates from the NDA was unconstitutional and done entirely on the basis of their sex. The government's previous stance on the petition was that "different kind of training" was needed and "ultimately it (barring women) is a matter of national security".
Yesterday, the government sought more time saying it is in the process of establishing "appropriate" medical and physical fitness standards, and building "required infrastructure", which includes "robust physical separation between male and female residential areas".
The government had also said there were "no parallel (physical) standards for women candidates", so these were being formulated; "... the issue needs detailed analysis, including expert inputs to maintain operational readiness." Gynaecologists, sports medicine experts and counsellors, nursing staff and female attendants would also need to be in place for women cadets, it had said.