Women Army officers to get the promotions and benefits due to them, a bold and much awaited step by MoD

Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has taken a major step providing much-awaited relief to women Army Officers. On 29 January 2018, the Ministry of Defense withdrew its appeals against a 2012 Armed Forces Tribunal decision setting aside the denial of promotions and benefits to Short Service and Women Officers commissioned before 2006.

A Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice of India Deepak Mishra heard the plea by the Ministry of Defense stating that the issue had been resolved and the Ministry would withdraw its case against the women officers. Lawyer Aishwarya Bhati represented several women officers in this case.

In 2004, the Government of India had accepted promotions of army officers at two, six and 13 years of service to the ranks of Captain, Major and Lieutenant Colonel. Though the promotions were to apply to all commissioned officers, later the benefit was denied to Short Service and women officers. Due to a contentious interpretation by the Army, several short service and women officers were denied promotion to the ranks of Captain, Major and Lt Colonel. Their junior officers, who became eligible after 2006, were granted all these benefits as per the 2004-recommendations of the Ajai Vikram Singh (AVS) Committee, according to reports.

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The Short Service scheme was changed from 5+5+4 years system to 10+4 years system in 2006. After that, the benefit was extended to officers opting for the new scheme. This resulted in a sharp disparity among officers who were denied promotions and benefits because senior officers were retired as substantive Lieutenants and Captains while their juniors could reach the Lieutenant Colonel-rank. According to a report, the women officers and SSC officers affected negatively by this decision filed a petition against this move in the Armed Forces Tribunal. The Armed Forces Tribunal had struck down this discriminatory move but the then MoD under the UPA government, had moved to the Supreme Court against the Tribunal’s decision.

It was only in 2015 that an expert panel set by the MoD (then headed by Mr Manohar Parrikar) recommended the withdrawal of the appeal, and said that such unnecessary litigation was due to an “a self-created negative interpretation even when the scheme had been approved for all officers by the Cabinet.”

The decision taken by The Ministry of Defence has been welcomed by experts.

While a historic wrong has been rectified today, one must also pause to ask why the previous government had moved the Supreme Court against the Tribunal’s decision to strike down this discriminatory move.

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