But where to draw the line: SC refuses plea for Permanent Commission of women Army officers after cut-off date

The Supreme Court refused to entertain a petition for granting benefits of Permanent Commission (PC) to women SSC officers of Army, who superannuated on completing 14-years in service after the cut-off date of February 17 fixed by the SC.

Relief sought by these women officers, “in substance” amounts to review of its verdict and if it allows the plea then other batches of officers may also seek similar relief, the SC said on Thursday.

On February 17, the SC had directed the Centre to consider within three months, all serving SSC women officers for PC irrespective of them having crossed 14 years or, as the case may be, 20 years of service.

The SC had said, as a one-time measure, the benefit of continuing in service until the attainment of 20 years pensionable service shall also apply to all the existing SSC officers with more than fourteen years of service.

A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and KM Joseph, said on Thursday that “it is not inclined to hear the petition as the relief sought, in substance, amounts to review of the judgment”.

THE PLEA

During the hearing, the advocate Meenakshi Lekhi said application has been filed by 19 women officers who superannuated in March and are seeking that the benefits of permanent commission be granted to them.

Lekhi said the cut-off date fixed by the court is that of the judgment, February 17, but the government order accepting the cut-off date and grant of permanent commission came in July.

WHERE DO WE DRAW THE LINE, ASKS SC

Justice Chandrachud said, “If we relax that date of cut off, then there will be no stop. Where do we draw the line? That is actually worrying me”.

The bench referred to the judgment and said it had given the direction as a one-time measure only.

It observed that “These women officers completed their 14-years of service in March and we gave a cut-off date of our judgment. The government order came later. How far back can we go?”

Senior advocate R Balasubramanian, appearing for the Centre, opposed the application and said it cannot be left open-ended.

He said the present applicants had not completed 14 years of service as on February 17, when the SC had delivered its judgement.

He said that on July 16, the government passed the orders relating to the Permanent Commission and all those who had completed 14 years in service as on February 17 cut-off date will get pension and other benefits.

He said if the court allows the issue to remain open-ended then it will become un-implementable for the government.

The bench told Lekhi, “Now, if we grant the benefit (as sought by applicants) then we will have to give it to the successive batches of officers also”.

The SC said it will have serious implications as every batch will be completing 14 years of service.

It asked Lekhi to withdraw the application and wait for the board for grant of permanent commission to consider their (officers) applications.

Justice Chandrachud said it’s difficult to address these matters because they (officers) are all in service of the nation and “we feel that we should be able to do something for them but where to draw the line”.

On July 7, the SC had granted one more month to the Centre to implement its verdict directing that the PC be given to all serving SSC women officers in the Army.

It had said that the Centre will have to comply with all the directions given in the February 17 verdict.

The SC had accepted the Centre’s policy of February 25, 2019 to grant PC to SSC women officers in all the 10 streams in the Indian Army.

It had held that the option of grant of PC shall be given to all women SSC officers and if those with more than 14 years of service do not opt for grant of PC then they will be entitled to continue in service until they attain 20 years of pensionable service.

The top court had said SSC women officers with over 20 years of service who are not granted PC shall retire on pension in terms of policy decision.

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