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India IAF To Give Permanent Commission To Women Officers

Jan 1, 2010
NEW DELHI: After winning a three-year-long court battle, women officers of the Air Force will now be accorded permanent commission for which an exercise has been initiated by the IAF.

"Yes, we have already started the process for according permanent commission to women officers in accordance with the Delhi High Court orders," a senior IAF officer told PTI here.

The court orders came in March this year on a petition from 22 IAF and other 30-odd Army women officers, who accused the government of discriminating against them vis-à-vis their male counterparts.

"All the 22 women officers, who had gone to the court, will be given permanent commission," the senior IAF officer said.

IAF sources said the force had already issued offer letters to these women officers asking if they would be interested in a permanent commission.

With this offer, women officers would get an opportunity to rise up to the rank of Lieutenant General and retire at the age of 60 along with retirement and other benefits, similar to the IAF men.

Sources said the IAF decision on the High Court order came after India's Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam had advised against an appeal and asked the IAF to go by the court directive.

However, the Army's position on the court orders is still not clear, as they "are still studying the orders" and preparing their response, according to officers in the Army headquarters here.

In their landmark judgement favouring women serving in the defence forces, including those who had retired while the plea was being heard, the division bench of Justices S K Kaul and M P Garg had directed the government to grant permanent commission to them, saying they "deserve better from the government."

However, the court had disallowed the women officer's plea to be allowed in combat roles in the armed forces.

"There are also male officers performing the same task. If the male officers can be granted permanent commission while performing those tasks, there is no reason why equally capable women officers cannot be granted permanent commission. It is not a charity being sought by the women officers but enforcement of their own Constitutional rights," the court had said.

It rejected the plea of the government that Permanent Commission be allowed only for future recruits, a decision taken by the government in 2009, as the benefit could not be accorded retrospectively for serving and retired lady officers who had approached the court.

Women join the armed forces as Short Service Commissioned (SSC) officers and serve for a maximum of 14 years, retiring without any benefits.

SSC men officers are offered Permanent Commission on completion of stipulated 14-year service and rise up to the rank of Lieutenant Generals with retirement at the age of 60, taking home half their last drawn salary as pension.

In 2009, the Defence Ministry had decided to accord permanent commission to women officers in the Education, Legal and Accounts branches in Army, Navy and Air Force.

Earlier, women officers in the medical, nursing and dental services were the ones eligible for Permanent Commission in the armed forces.

They were eligible for SSC service in supporting arms and services such as Ordnance, Signals, and Electrical and Electronics Engineering of the Army, and helicopter and transport aircraft flying, Air Traffic Control, Administration, Meteorological and Logistics branches of the IAF.

Even after the 2009 decision of the Defence Ministry, women officers are still not eligible for recruitment in fighting arms such as the Infantry, Armoured and Engineers in the Army and Fighter Pilot stream in the IAF.

After the High Court orders, women officers in the IAF can now look forward to storm in to the male bastions of the service too. They will yet not be part of fighter pilot stream of the IAF's flying branch.

At present, 2,000-odd women officers serve in the armed forces. They include 1,000-odd in the Army, 780 plus in IAF, and 250 plus in Indian Navy.

Several militaries globally induct women, but only a few allow them to perform active combat roles. Among the nations that are liberal in this regard include Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Norway and Switzerland.

Britain and Israel allow women to serve in combat arms positions like artillery, but exclude them from infantry.

The US allows women in most combat roles, including flying.

Rajneesh Madhok

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