Permanent Commission to female officers of the Navy as well as the Air Force, is there a facially neutral discrimination?

Permanent Commission to female officers of the Navy as well as the Air Force, is there a facially neutral discrimination?

The Supreme Court recently ordered the government to grant permanent commission to women officers in the Army’s noncombat support units on par with their male counterparts should they wish to continue with it after completing their short-service commission.

Prior Facts:

In its verdict on Centre’s appeal against the Delhi High Court direction, the Supreme Court on Monday said that the permanent commission will apply to all women officers in the Army in service, irrespective of their years of service. The Supreme Court also directed the Centre to grant permanent commission within three months to all women officers in Army who opt for it. Rejecting Centre’s opposition to permanent commission to women officers citing physiological features, the Supreme Court said this mind-set must change as it perpetuates “gender stereotypes”. Around 1,500 women Army personnel are likely to benefit from the Supreme Court order, according to officials.

Now, a similar case will be heard in the Supreme Court on Wednesday, but this time for the benefits of women officers in the Air Force. The three services — Army, Navy and the Air Force — have allowed permanent recruitment of women in select streams including medical, education, legal, signals, logistics and engineering. The women officers recruited through the SSC in the IAF have the option of seeking a permanent commission in all streams except the flying branch.

Key Features:

  • Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane Thursday said the organisation has prepared a roadmap for granting permanent commission to women officers. The first step of the process will be to send out letters to women officers currently on short service commission (SSC), asking whether they want to opt for permanent commission.
  • The SC noted that, Denial of such an opportunity to women officers, combined with the Army policy of not giving them command posts of Colonel and beyond based on a performance index, lowers their status to that of a jawan or junior commissioned officer.
  • The Delhi High Court had in 2010 ordered the government to grant permanent commission to all short-service commission officers while upholding a policy decision to keep out women from the combat units.
  • The government then challenged this ruling in the SC and did not implement the decision in the interim despite there being no stay on it. It now has to implement the policy within three months.
  • The benefit will have to be given to all women officers irrespective of the number of years of service they might have put in. The ‘no women in combat’ rule was not challenged in the SC.
  • The court flayed the government attitude of dragging its feet on the issue of granting permanent commission to women officers as at odds with its policy of taking steps “to eradicate the divide between men and women officers in as many streams as possible in an incremental manner”.
  • The bench said that, “The government’s salient decision to extend permanent commission to women SSC officers in other corps in the support arms and services recognises that the physiological features of a woman have no significance to her equal entitlements under the Constitution”.
  • The SC remarked that, “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 mind-set”.
  • The bench also held as “discriminatory” a rule that doesn’t allow a woman officer to be posted in anything else but a staff appointment as contrasted with a command appointment based on an efficiency matrix.
  • The bench said that, “An absolute bar on women seeking criteria or command appointments would not comport with the guarantee of equality under Article 14 (right to equality)”.
  • In terms of gender ratios, the air force has the best gender balance, but men still constitute seven times the cadre. In the army, the ratio is worse: there are 27 men per woman.
  • The medical services of the Armed Forces employ 1.3 times the number of women in any other service.
  • The Supreme Court ruling on permanent commission comes 15 years after the first case was filed in 2003.
  • For an International Perspective, estimates from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) show that women do not contribute significantly to the combat forces of NATO militaries. In 2017, less than a fifth of all NATO active military duty personnel were women with Hungary, the US and Canada having the highest female representation.
  • Not only in the military services, but in the all levels of India’s public service, women’s representation is low. Only 23% of the Indian Administrative Service, 12% of the current Lok Sabha and 11% of Supreme Court judges are women.
  • The apex court rejected the defence ministry’s argument that “(Indian) troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command of units” because they (the men) are “predominantly drawn from a rural background.”


Now the ceiling has now been shattered with a Supreme Court ruling allowing permanent commission for women. Justice Chandrachud remarked and told additional solicitor general Sanjay Jain, giving a deadline of November 28 to respond that, “We are giving you an opportunity. We can pass an order, but we are allowing you to take credit for it. These are women in service of the nation. If you give them permanent commission, think what message you will send to the world”. This opens the doors for women to command military units, such as logistics, signals or engineer regiments, thus placing them in the position of leading bodies of 500-600 men in combat support duties.

Edited by J. Madonna Jephi

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje

Vaibhav Goyal
Vaibhav Goyal is a 3rd year BA.LLB (H) student of UILS, Panjab University, Chandigarh, India. He also basically belongs to the “City Beautiful-Chandigarh”. He had interned and have work experience at various Central and State Government bodies of India including the National Human Rights Commission, New Delhi; the Central Information Commission, New Delhi; U.T. Legal Services Authority, Chandigarh, etc. His research projects includes the study on the Right to Emergency Services (PSHRC), Resettlement of Migrant People (NHRC), Implications of RTI in Financial Institutions (CIC), etc. His publications involve articles in different fields of law like administrative, jurisprudence, etc. on online journals including the Juscholars Blog, Burnished Law Journal, etc. His research paper on Prison Reform was published in the Panjab University Journal and his paper was selected in category of best abstract on the topic of Naxalism: A State of Lawlessness and Arbitrariness. He had scored well in various competitions of law consisting of Quiz, Essay Writing, Lecture, Declamation, etc. He had also participated in various conferences including the World Law Forum Conference on Strategic Lawsuits on Public Participation held in New Delhi on Oct 20, 2018 and the National Law Conclave 2020 held at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi on Jan 11, 2020.