Supreme Court allows women officers to challenge Army's promotion policy [16.4.2024]

The Supreme Court has allowed women the opportunity to challenge the Indian Army's new promotion policy for the rank of brigadier, allowing them to contest alleged discrimination. The court also closed proceedings in a pending application seeking gender-neutral standards for promotion assessments vis-à-vis male counterparts.

On December 4, 2023, the court was informed that deliberations to formulate a policy for the career progression of women officers were underway, to consider their promotion to brigadier from colonel. The Army was given time till March 31, 2024 to draw this policy. The new policy was then introduced on March 29,  titled "Future Career Progression Policy for Women Officers" empaneled for promotion as brigadier by selection board - 2 (SB-2). The army implemented this policy following prodding from the court.

Acknowledging the existence of the new policy introduced on March 29, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud stated, "Now that there is a policy in place, the challenge to it must be heard in an appropriate proceeding."

The bench emphasised that any grievances regarding the March 29 policy would need to be addressed through legal remedies. The court refrained from delving into the merits of the policy in the absence of proper legal procedure.

The application was filed by approximately 30 women colonels.

Attorney General R Venkataramani, who represented the government alongside Senior Advocate R Balasubramanian for the Army, provided details of the new policy, highlighting significant relaxations granted to women officers and stated that future promotions by SB-2 would adhere to this policy. Venkataramani reiterated that continuous requests for relaxation were unwarranted.

Senior Advocate Archana Pathak Dave, representing the women officers, raised objections to the new policy, asserting that it shared similar flaws as observed in the Nitisha judgment. Notably, the policy mandated compulsory higher courses lasting two years, a requirement deemed impractical for officers with nearly two decades of service.

Colonel Sarika Pendalwar, assisting Venkataramani, disclosed that out of the army's approximately 49,000 officers, 150 colonel vacancies had been earmarked for women officers. However, the officers' affidavit claimed that the policy hindered their future career progression to major general, portraying it as regressive.

The army's stance on maintaining essential eligibility criteria for promotions, particularly emphasising operational requirements, was reiterated. Venkataramani underscored that while the issues raised by women officers pertained to pre-2005 batches, making exceptions for the petitioners could have long-term implications.

16 Apr 2024