“Women can sail with the same efficiency as male officers”- Justice Chandrachud
In a monumental verdict, the Supreme Court held that women were as entitled to serve the Indian Navy as are men, and that the women (Short Service Commission officers) had the right to be entitled to the Permanent Commission of the Indian Navy.
The verdict was passed in the case of Union of India vs Ld Cdr Annie Nagraja and others and connected matters by a division bench comprising of Justice D.Y Chandrachud and Justice Ajay Rastogi. The same bench, on February 17th 2020, pronounced a judgement favouring the extension of Permanent commission for women in the Indian Army. The said verdict was passed in the case of The Secretary, Ministry of Defence vs Babita Puniya and others.
In the present case of Union of India vs Annie Nagraja and others, the Supreme Court was deciding upon the appeals filed by the Union Ministry against the judgement passed by the Delhi High Court that allowed the claim of women officers for permanent commission.
The female officers had complained that even after serving as Short Service Commission officers for 14 years, they were not admitted to the Permanent Service Commission and were instead released from service.
The Supreme Court in the present case upheld the judgement of the Delhi High Court and rejected the appeals of Union Ministry. The Supreme court held that both the genders are to be treated equally in granting permission to the Indian Navy after the statutory bar for inducting women is lifted.
The bench stated that the centres arguments and objections based on the physiological features of women were mere “gender stereotypes”.
Justice Chandrachud in his judgement stated “Women can sail with the same efficiency as male officers. Denial of permanent commission to SSC women in navy who have served the nation is a grave miscarriage of justice.”
All the directives under the judgement have been asked to be implemented by the Centre within three months and the applications for the permanent commission shall be considered on the basis of vacancies.
It was not until 9th of October, 1991 when the notification enabling provision under Section 9(2) of the Navy Act was issued, that women were commissioned in the Indian Navy. The said notification laid down that women would be eligible to be appointed as officers in the Indian Navy. But this was confined to only four branches namely Logistics, Law, ATC and Education.
Ministry on 26th September, 2008 for the first time decided to grant permanent commission to SSC women officers in all the three forces. But, according to this policy, only women appointed after January 2009 were eligible for permanent commission only in education, law and naval architecture.
Justice Kailash Gambhir and Najmi Wazri in the division bench of Delhi HC held the denial of Permanent Commission to women SSC officers into ATC and Logistics.
The High Court in the present case thus held “We fail to comprehend that when these petitioners along with the male officers had undertaken the same kind of training but nevertheless were denied permanent commission although the men were granted the permanent commission with no special merit except for the fact that they belong to the male sex. If this does not tantamount to gender discrimination then what else does?”