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indian coast guard: ‘Must march with time’: SC expands scope of permanent commission for women officers in Coast Guard

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The Supreme Court’s recent ruling has implications beyond the Army, Navy, and Air Force, as it now includes the Indian Coast Guard in its directive for granting permanent commission to women officers. This decision stems from a petition filed by Priyanka Tyagi, an SSA officer who served in the ICG.

The bench of Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud, and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra also ordered the transfer of the petition by the woman SSA officer Priyanka Tyagi from the Delhi High Court to the Supreme Court. This decision came after the Delhi High Court declined to grant interim relief to Tyagi but agreed to examine the larger issue of permanent commission (PC) for women in the Indian Coast Guard (ICG). The Supreme Court justified its decision by stating that the issue presented a national concern regarding gender equality, as outlined in Article 15 of the Constitution, which prohibits discrimination on various grounds including sex.

During a virtual one-sided hearing of Tyagi’s lawyer, senior advocate Archana Pathak Dave, the bench emphasized that since different branches of the armed forces had granted permanent commission to women short service commission officers, the ICG should not remain an outlier. The bench stressed the need for Tyagi’s petition to be heard in light of the broader constitutional mandate of Article 15.

“The petition needs to be heard given the broader constitutional mandate of Article 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth),” the petition said.

When attorney general R Venkataramani and additional solicitor general Vikramjit Banerjee attempted to convey the factual aspects of the denial of permanent commission to Tyagi, the bench said, “Look at the resistance you have for absorbing women in permanent commission in ICG, which must march with time.”

During her tenure, Tyagi displayed exceptional valor and dedication, saving more than 300 lives at sea and logging 4,500 flying hours, the highest among both male and female armed forces personnel. In 2016, she made history as part of the first all-women crew on a Dornier aircraft for maritime patrolling in the eastern region.Despite her exemplary service, Tyagi was denied permanent entry into the ICG, leading to her discharge in December 2023. The Supreme Court bench, including Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud, Justices J B Pardiwala, and Manoj Misra, expressed strong disapproval of the ICG’s resistance to granting permanent commission to women officers. The bench emphasized the need for the ICG to align with the broader constitutional mandate of gender equality, citing Article 15, which prohibits discrimination on grounds of sex.”We have to be the flag bearers and march with the nation,” the bench stated, highlighting the historical barriers women have faced in professions like law and fighter piloting. The court questioned the ICG’s treatment of its women officers and directed the force to re-induct Priyanka Tyagi to her previous post.

Tyagi, seeking permanent commission for eligible women short service commission officers of the ICG, had her plea transferred from the Delhi High Court to the Supreme Court. The bench disagreed with the Attorney General’s assertion that comparing the ICG to the other armed forces was misguided, emphasizing that the ICG must align with the decisions regarding permanent commission in other branches.

β€œI am not resisting anything at all. I am not under resistance by them. But I am only looking at what’s called the orderly process structuring a certain institutional transition and how we are to manage that,” the top-most government law officer said.

While the ICG has expressed commitment to incrementally inducting more women officers, the Supreme Court has demanded a more proactive approach. The bench directed the ICG to re-induct Tyagi and assigned her a significant posting commensurate with her qualifications, pending further orders.

The Supreme Court’s decision marks a significant milestone in the pursuit of gender equality within the armed forces, signaling a progressive shift towards inclusivity and recognition of women’s contributions. By extending the scope of permanent commission to women officers in the ICG, the court has reaffirmed its commitment to upholding constitutional values and ensuring equal opportunities for all.

The ICG had earlier said it is committed to incrementally inducting more women officers.

It had, however, told the bench that the present recruitment rules related to short service commission officers specifically provide that they cannot seek permanent commission.

Observing that women cannot be left out, the bench had asked the Centre to ensure they are granted permanent commission in the Coast Guard.

While seeking the response of the Centre and the maritime force, the top court had said, “All these functionality arguments do not hold water in the year 2024. Women cannot be left out. If you do not do it, we will do it. So take a look at that.”

“You speak of ‘nari shakti’ (woman power). Now show it here. You are in the deep end of the sea in this matter. You must come up with a policy which treats women fairly,” the bench had observed then.

The bench said the petitioner was the only SSC woman officer who was opting for permanent commission and asked why her case was not considered.

“Now, the Coast Guard must come up with a policy,” the bench said.



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