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ARE WOMEN IN INDIAN NAVY ELIGIBLE FOR PERMANENT COMMISSION?

In the year 1992, women were inducted in the Indian Navy for the first time through a special entry scheme, after which the Short Service Commission (SSC) was introduced. Although initially women were inducted only in some selected branches, over the years it has expanded. Recently, in the case of Union of India & Ors. v. Lt Cdr Annie Nagaraja & Ors. (2020) the Supreme Court of India has upheld that women employed in the Indian Navy through the SSC are eligible for Permanent Commission (PC) i.e., they can serve till their retirement. In SSC, the tenure is of 10 years, while with an extension of 4 years, Navy officers can be eligible for Permanent Commission. The verdict can be seen as a step towards establishing the Right to Equality granted under Article 14 of our Constitution. It can be observed that this judgement was inspired by the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of The Secretary, Ministry of Defence v. Babita Puniya & Ors. (2020), where the Court dismissed the Central Government’s submissions that women are physiologically weaker than men as a “sex stereotype” and held that SSC women officers are eligible for Permanant Commission and Command Posts in the Indian Army irrespective of their service years.In the present case of Union of India & Ors. v. Lt Cdr Annie Nagaraja & Ors. (2020), the Supreme Court gave the judgement based on a plea filed by 17 women SSC officers in the Navy who were denied Permanent Commission and were discharged despite completing 14 years of service as SSC officers. While making a decision in this case the Court made the following observations:“Women officers have worked shoulder to shoulder with their men counterparts in every walk of service. Therefore, the ‘101 excuses’ devised by the government, including motherhood and physiological limitations, reeked of a stereotypical mindset.And women naval officers cannot be denied the right to equal opportunity and dignity entitled to them under the Constitution of India on specious grounds such as physiology, motherhood and physical attributes.”The Supreme Court of India gave a deadline of 3 months for its judgement on granting Permanent Commission to women SSC officers in the Indian Navy to be implemented, but later it extended the deadline to December 31, 2020, for implementation of this judgement considering the COVID-19 pandemic since the Centre moved the plea asking for an extension in June 2020. On 30th December 2020, the Supreme Court of India decided to hear a plea, filed by 10 women Navy officers who were due to retire on 31st December 2020 along with such similar pleas on 19th January 2021.This is a new change in the Indian Navy system, unlike the already existing freedom in the United States where every woman officer is eligible to serve in every rank and every job in the US navy since the year 1994. Similarly, in the United Kingdom, women officers are eligible for all jobs including the full range of specialist qualification. But, keeping the existing freedom for women Navy officers in the other countries, it can be said that India is walking towards such gender equality as well, which is a good sign for a bright future for women in India. These new judgements will also encourage more and more women to apply for the Indian Armed Forces.