NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court Wednesday said "administrative will" and "change of mindset" are required on the issue of giving command posts to women officers in the Army.
A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi, which is considering the issue of giving command position to women officers in Army after grant of permanent commission, said the government has to look at the matter "very differently".
"Two things, administrative will and change of mindset, is needed to do this," the bench observed, amid a media report quoting the Centre's note.
"Composition of rank and file being male, predominantly drawn from rural background, with prevailing societal norms, troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept WOs (women officers) in command of units," said the report quoting the note.
As soon as the hearing began, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said he was dealing with the matter and content of the report has projected the things in a different manner.
The bench also said that what has been reported was not part of the arguments.
It said there was more nuance in the matter than what has been reported.
Mehta said the government has never intended to argue that male officers cannot take orders from women officers.
He said women should not just strive to equal men as they can go far ahead of them.
The apex court was hearing an appeal by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) against the March 2010 judgement of the Delhi High Court which had directed the Navy to grant permanent commission to all its women officers on short service commission.
The top court said it would examine the issue related to command posts for women officers in Air Force and Navy on February 11.
The Centre has submitted a written note in the apex court, containing the proposal of the government, that points out to several issues including "physical prowess" and "physiological limitations" as challenges for women officers to meet the exigencies of service in Army.
"Inherent physiological differences between men and women preclude equal physical performance resulting in lower physical standards and hence the physical capacity of WOs (women officers) in the IA remain a challenge for command of units," the note said, adding that officers are expected to lead their men 'from the front' and need to be in prime physical condition to undertake combat tasks.
During the arguments on Wednesday, the bench asked the lawyer appearing for the MoD as to whether his line of submissions was that women officers were not entitled for permanent commission at all.
The lawyer, while making it clear that there was no discrimination against women officers in the Army, said he was not arguing that Military policy has to be static as it keeps evolving with time.
Advocate Meenakshi Lekhi, appearing for some women officers, told the bench that "administrative will" and not the "political will" was missing on the issue.
Lekhi referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi August 15, 2018 speech in which he had announced that women officers recruited under short service commission in the armed forces would have the option of taking up permanent commission.
"That is why we did not say political will," the bench said.
In its written note, the Centre has said that women officers up to 14 years of service would be considered for permanent commissions and further career progression in staff appointments only.
It said that women officers above 14 years of service would be permitted to serve up to 20 years without consideration for permanent commission and would be released with pensionary benefits subject to meeting disciplinary and medical criteria.
The note said that women officers having over 20 years of service would be released with pensionary benefits.
When the MoD's counsel referred to the difference in the training given to male and women officers, the bench observed, "Even for granting permanent commission, you could see their fitness and suitability.
It is not that everybody ipso-facto gets permanent commission".
The MoD counsel said post-1999 Kargil war, people have come in large number to join Army through short service commission.
On the issue raised in the written note about a situation where a women soldier or officer may become a 'prisoner of war', the bench said there were other services in addition to direct combat operations where women officers may serve.
"It would be a situation of extreme physical, mental and psychological stress for the individual, the organisation and above all the government. Therefore, such a situation is best avoided by keeping the WOs away from direct combat," the Centre has said in the written note.
The bench has asked the parties to file their written submissions by February 8 and told the MoD's counsel to inform the court by Monday next if the government has taken some decision on the issue.
In its note, the Centre said the country has two unsettled borders and Armymen are mostly deployed in isolated and detached posts in difficult terrain and adverse climatic conditions.
"The lines of communications are extended and the internal security situation in the north-east and J&K puts severe limitations on the functioning of units in these areas.
These conditions have a major bearing in the employment of WOs in light of their physiological limitations accentuated by the challenges of confinement, motherhood and child-care," it said.