Permanent Commission for Women

  • IASbaba
  • March 30, 2021
  • 0
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  • GS-2: Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions (Judicial Overreach Vs Judicial activism)
  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation

Permanent Commission for Women

The story so far: 

  • Secretary, Ministry of Defence vs. Babita Puniya Case: The Supreme Court in February 2020 directed the government to ensure that women officers in the Army be granted permanent commission (PC) as well as command postings in all services other than combat.
  • Appeal by Women questing implementation: Later, questioning the compliance of the Army with the directions in the judgment, around 80 women short service commission officers approached the Supreme Court challenging the arbitrary process, including unjust medical standards, applied to deny permanent commission to women officers
  • Lt. Col. Nitisha vs. Union of India Case: On 25th March  2021, the Supreme Court held that the Army’s selective evaluation process discriminated against and disproportionately affected women officers seeking permanent commission.

Brief Background of issue of Permanent Commission- Click here

What did the Supreme Court observe?

  • SC observed that the pattern of evaluation inherently caused economic and psychological harm to women short service commission officers. 
  • The judgment said the evaluation criteria set by the Army constituted “systemic discrimination” against the petitioners.
  • SC found several deviations in the standards adopted by the Army for evaluating women officers. 
  • The court observed that the reliance placed on the women officers’ ACR [annual confidential reports] evaluation for determining the grant of permanent commission was unfair.

What is the procedure for granting permanent commission?

  • In 1992, the Union Government issued a notification making women eligible for appointment as officers in select non-combat branches. 
  • In 2008, the government extended the permanent commission to women in two branches — Judge Advocate General (JAG) and Army Educational Corps (AEC).
  • In a long legal battle for equality, 322 women officers had approached the top court for granting permanent commission, and the Supreme Court delivered its landmark verdict in February 2020. 
  • In July 2020, the Defence Ministry issued the government sanction letter, specifying grant of permanent commission to women officers in all streams in which they are presently serving 

How did the Army respond to the sanction letter?

  • Following the sanction letter, the Army constituted a special selection board for screening women officers for grant of permanent commission who joined the service through the Women Special Entry Scheme (WSES) and Short Service Commission Women (SSCW). 
  • Of the 365 optee officers who were considered fit for permanent commission by the Selection Board, 277 women short service commission officers (WSSCOs) were granted permanent commission after medical scrutiny. 
  • However, some petitioners said the process followed was arbitrary and challenged it in the top court.

What are the fresh directives?

  • Benchmarking against male batch is irrational: The Supreme Court noted that the Army process of benchmarking women officers against the officers lowest in merit in the corresponding male batch is “irrational and arbitrary”, and said this requirement should be removed. 
  • Criteria for grant of Permanent Commission: All women officers who have fulfilled the cut-off grade of 60% in the Special Selection Board held in September 2020 shall be entitled to the grant of permanent commission, the judgment said, subject to their meeting the prescribed medical criteria and receiving disciplinary and vigilance clearance.
  • Equality upheld: SC stated that in the spirit of true equality with their male counterparts in the corresponding batches, the WSSCOs must be considered medically fit for grant of PC by reliance on their medical fitness, as recorded in the 5th or 10th year of their service.
  • Case of petitioners to be reconsidered: Other than “non-optees”, the cases of all WSSCOs, including the petitioners who have been rejected on medical grounds, shall be reconsidered within a month and orders for the grant of permanent commission must be issued within two months
  • Also, for the Babita Puniya case, the court held that for officers within the service bracket of 10 to 14 years who have been denied permanent commission, it has allowed them to continue in service till they attain 20 years of pensionable service.

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