The Supreme Court Tuesday restrained the Centre from discharging the Short Service Commissioner (SSC) women officers in Indian Navy from service pending consideration of their claims for grant of Permanent Commission (PC).
The top court on March 17 in a major verdict paved the way for granting Permanent Commission to women officers in Indian Navy, saying a level playing field ensures that women have the opportunity to overcome "histories of discrimination".
The top court had said that all the Short Service Commission (SSC) officers in the education, law and logistics cadres of Navy, who are presently in service, will be considered for the grant of permanent commissions (PCs) and gave three months' time to Centre to complete the modalities.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and KM Joseph, was hearing a plea of a woman officer through video conferencing, alleging that Centre has not complied with top court's direction of March 17, for the grant of Permanent Commission within a period of three months in Indian Navy.
Advocate Santosh Krishnan, appearing for petitioner Rupali Rohatgi said that this exercise has not been initiated (beyond inviting applications) and completed.
After hearing the arguments, the bench said, "Prima facie, the Union of India having failed to comply with the directions contained in the judgment of this Court dated March 17, 2020 which mandated consideration for the grant of Permanent Commission within three months, it would be unfair to discharge the Short Service Commissioned officers in the meantime, pending consideration".
It said, "We accordingly issue an ad-interim order and direction that the petitioner(s) shall not be discontinued from service pending consideration of their requests for the grant of Permanent Commission".
It stayed the judgment of the Delhi High Court dated July 23, 2020 and of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) dated July 13, 2020 on the issue of grant of permanent commission.
The bench issued notice to Centre on the plea filed by Rupali Rohatgi, an SSC officer in Indian Navy, challenging the orders of the Delhi High Court and the order of AFT, which had refused to restrain the authorities from releasing them after the lapse of their commission till their claim for grant of permanent commission is considered on merits.
Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain, appearing for Centre, said an application for extension of time has been filed before this Court in view of the intervening pandemic and the lock down which was occasioned, as a consequence.
Krishnan submitted that as a result of the impugned order of the Delhi High Court; even those cases where interim orders have been granted by the Armed Forces Tribunal are now being listed for vacating them.
The bench posted the matter for further hearing on August 20. On March 17, the top court had said that the battle for gender equality is about confronting the battles of the mind and history is replete with examples where women have been denied their just entitlements under law and the right to fair and equal treatment in the workplace.
"A hundred and one excuses are no answer to the constitutional entitlement to dignity, which attaches to every individual irrespective of gender, to fair and equal conditions of work and to a level playing field," the top court had said, giving three months to the Centre to work out the modalities for granting permanent commission to women SSC officers.
It had said the Centre's contention that certain sea-going duties are ill-suited to women officers is premised on sex stereotypes that male officers are more suited to certain duties by virtue of the physiological characteristics and to accept it would be to "approve the socially ascribed gender roles which a commitment to equal worth and dignity of every individual belies".
The top court had quashed the prospective effect of the Centre''s controversial September 2008 policy, which restricted the grant of permanent commission to certain categories only. The top court had said that the period of service after which women SSC officers shall be entitled to submit applications for the grant of PCs shall be the same as their male counterparts.
"A level playing field ensures that women have the opportunity to overcome their histories of discrimination with the surest of responses based on their competence, ability and performance," it had said, adding that in the context of the Armed Forces, specious reasons have been advanced by decision makers and administrators, which range from physiology, motherhood and physical attributes to the male dominated hierarchies.
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