New Delhi, Nov 12 (PTI) Threatened with contempt action against the Indian Army and its Chief Manoj Mukund Naravane by the Supreme Court over non-compliance of its earlier orders, the defence force agreed on Friday to grant Permanent Commission (PC) to all of its eligible women officers.
“We are holding Army guilty of contempt of court. We are putting you on guard. Since you have not complied with our orders you will have to face the consequences. The Army may be supreme in its own authority but this Constitution court is also supreme in its own jurisdiction“, the Supreme Court said.
The Army had initially said that out of the 36 Women Short Service Commission Officers (WSSCO) in the force, who have filed the contempt petition, it has granted PC to 22 officers while 14 were not considered fit including 3 on medical ground.
After the top Court’s warning, the Army informed a bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and A S Bopanna that it will grant PC to all the eligible women officers.
The Bench asked Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain and senior advocate R Balasubramanian, appearing for the Army, whether the 11 officers who were left out (except for 3 on medical ground) had met the 60 percent marks criteria and whether they have disciplinary and vigilance clearance or not as per the Court’s criteria laid down on March 25 this year.
Jain said the 11 officers have got over 60 percent marks and they had all the disciplinary and vigilance clearances but they had adverse remarks and their statutory and non-statutory complaints are pending.
“If they have met all the criteria set out in our judgement then why have you not granted them the PC? We have said in our earlier orders that out of 72 WSSCO officers, who have approached the court or not, shall be granted the PC subject to the meeting of the criteria“, the Bench said.
The Bench then started dictating the order but was interrupted by Jain that they have just received instruction that the Army is willing to grant the PC to 11 officers who are before the Court.
The counsels for the Army officers who have been denied the PC objected to the statement and said that even those officers who have not filed the contempt petition against the Army and Naravane should be considered.
Jain said that these are contempt petitions and only such officers will be considered who are before the Court.
Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing for some officers, said that it is a humiliation of the Army officers whose achievements have been lauded by the top Court in its verdict and the Army taking a technical ground to deny the PC does not suit it.
Jain urged the Bench that since he and Balasubramanian need to seek instruction from the concerned authorities, the Court may give them some time till 2 PM and till then it should not dictate the order.
The Bench agreed to the request and allowed Jain and Balasubramanian to seek instructions.
In the post-lunch sitting, Jain said that they have got instructions that the Army is willing to grant the PC to all the WSSCOs, irrespective of the fact that they are before the Court or not but meeting the criteria set out by the Court in its March 25 order.
Jain said, “Army authorities think that this matter be put at rest today itself and they do not want any more litigation in this regard“.
The Bench asked the Army to issue orders for grant of Permanent Commission to 11 officers who are before the Court within 10 days and those who are not before the Court within 3 weeks.
It said that all the individual cases will be dealt with in accordance with law and did not proceed with initiating the contempt action against the Indian Army and its Chief. The Bench appreciated the stand taken by the Army and its lawyers.
With the direction of the top Court, 68 out of the total 71 WSSCOs who were earlier denied Permanent Commission will be granted the Permanent Commission. Initially, there were 72 officers who were denied the PC but later one officer had opted to quit. 3 officers have been found medically unfit.
Jain said that while considering the case of the remaining officers, the Army will approach the issue with an open mind and heart and would deal with cases of all the officers.
On October 8, the top Court had directed the Centre to issue orders granting PC to 39 such officers in 7 working days and furnish the details of 25 officers with reasons, who were not considered.
On October 1, the top Court had restrained the Army from discharging the 72 WSSCOs, who were not considered for PC, till further orders and had sought a reply within a week on why they were not considered for the service.
The women officers have alleged that the top Court’s March 25 ruling was not considered by the Army and all 72 of them were rejected from consideration for the PC at one go.
In its March 25 verdict, the Army was directed by the top Court to consider granting PC to the WSSCOs subject to their obtaining 60 percent marks in the assessment subjects, being found fit on medical criteria as per the August 1, 2020 order of the Army and having received disciplinary and vigilance clearances.
On February 17 last year, in a landmark verdict, the top Court had directed that women officers in the Army be granted Permanent Commission, rejecting the Centre’s stand of their physiological limitations as being based on “sex stereotypes” and “gender discrimination against women”.
The apex Court had directed that within 3 months, all serving SSC women officers have to be considered for PCs irrespective of them having crossed 14 years or, as the case may be, 20 years of service.