Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Govt withdraws appeals from Supreme Court against Short Service and Women Officers

In a major morale booster, the issue of denial of promotions and benefits to Short Service and Women Commissioned Officers commissioned before the year 2006 stands resolved with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) withdrawing its appeal filed against such officers today.

On implementation of the recommendations of the Ajai Vikram Singh Committee, the Government in 2004 had accepted the promotions of army officers at 2, 6 and 13 years of service to the ranks of Captain, Major and Lt Col respectively. Though the promotions were made applicable to all commissioned officers, the benefit was later withheld from Short Service and Women Officers due to an internal interpretation by the Army’s Military Secretary’s (MS) Branch. The benefits were also not extended despite a gazette notification by the Ministry of Defence extending the same to all affected officers though no such problem was faced in the Navy and the Air Force.  Later in 2006 when the Short Service Scheme was changed from 5+5+4 years system to 10+4 years system, the benefit was duly extended to those officers who opted for the new scheme resulting in a sharp disparity wherein senior officers were being retired as substantive Lieutenants and Captains while their juniors were reaching the rank of Lt Col.

The discrimination was set aside by the Armed Forces Tribunal on 14.3.2012, but the decision was challenged in the Supreme Court by the Army and the MoD and was stayed and pending since 2012.

A Committee of Experts for reducing litigation constituted by the then Raksha Mantri in 2015, comprising former Adjutant General Lt Gen Mukesh Sabharwal, former Military Secretary Lt Gen Richard Khare, Punjab & Haryana High Court Lawyer Maj Navdeep Singh, former JAG Maj Gen T Parshad and Kargil disabled veteran Maj DP Singh had however come down heavily upon for the establishment for filing an appeal by observing- “It is not understood as to why beneficial policies are viewed with a pessimistic eye so as to identify or even create prohibitory stipulations or even file appeals when the issue is suitably addressed by judicial intervention”. Adding that the appeal seemed more like a ‘prestige issue’, the panel had asked for its withdrawal observing that the “anomaly was due to a self-created negative interpretation even when the scheme had been approved for all officers by the Cabinet”.

It is learnt that the withdrawal was finally approved last week by Mrs Nirmala Sitharaman and today the appeal was finally withdrawn from the Supreme Court when the case came up for hearing, paving the way for grant of benefits to the officers. About hundred women officers had impleaded themselves in the case. 

It was a privilege for me to be part of this battle, representing some very courageous Women Army Officers, fighting against injustice, arbitrariness and symbolism which tested us on multiple levels. Happy that Truth finally Triumphed and Justice prevailed!

ADV Aishwarya Bhati

(Source : Via Gp e-mail from Col NK Balakrishnan (Retd) )

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