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Indian Coast Guard: ‘You speak of ‘nari shakti’, now show it here’: SC rebukes Centre over denial of rights to women officers in Coast Guard

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The Supreme Court has reprimanded the Centre for its patriarchal approach towards women officers in the Indian Coast Guard (ICG), highlighting the denial of permanent commission to women officers in the ICG. The court questioned why women officers in the ICG are not treated equally to their male counterparts in the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

“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 comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said.

“Why are you being so patriarchal? You do not want to see the face of women in the coast guard?” the bench asked Additional Solicitor General Vikramjit Banerjee, who appeared for the ICG.

Plea for Gender Equality

Priyanka Tyagi, a woman officer with a 14-year stint as a pilot in the ICG, was denied permanent entry despite her outstanding service record, which includes saving more than 300 lives at sea. Tyagi was part of the first-ever all-women crew on a Dornier aircraft for maritime patrolling in the eastern region in 2016. Despite her achievements, she was denied permanent commission, prompting her to approach the Delhi High Court, which also refused to grant interim relief.

Citing grant of permanent commission to women in all three wings of armed forces, she had moved Delhi HC which refused to grant interim relief by directing ICG to continue her service till a judicial decision is made. She thereafter moved SC.Hearing her plea, the bench said it would expand ambit of the case to examine the policy and would not be confined to only one case. The court asked the ASG to take instructions from the Centre.”Forget about her case, we will now deal with what you do to others. We are the Supreme Court .. we will see that justice is done for women in ICG. We will open up the whole canvas, you better take instructions with what you want to do,” the bench said.

On being told that 10 per cent permanent commission can be granted to women officers, the bench asked, “Why 10 per cent… are women lesser human beings?”

Court’s Firm Stand

The bench, comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, expressed its commitment to ensuring justice for women officers in the ICG. It emphasized that the court would not limit its intervention to Tyagi’s case alone but would examine the overall policy regarding the grant of permanent commission to women in the ICG.

“Why be so patriarchal that you do not want to see the face of women in the Coast Guard segment? You have women in the Navy. What is so special about the Coast Guard? What is so distinctive about the Coast Guard … Times are gone when we said women cannot be in the Coast Guard. If women can guard the borders, they can guard the coasts as well,” the court observed.

Centre’s Response

The Centre, represented by Additional Solicitor General Vikramjit Banerjee, argued that the ICG operates in a different domain compared to the Army and Navy. However, the bench urged the Centre to adopt a more gender-neutral policy and treat women officers in the ICG fairly.

Call for Gender-Neutral Policy

The bench stressed the need for a policy that treats women officers in the ICG on par with their male counterparts. It questioned the rationale behind the ICG’s reluctance to grant permanent commission to women officers when the Indian Navy has already implemented such a policy.

The Supreme Court’s firm stance reflects its commitment to gender equality and justice for women officers in the ICG. The court’s intervention is expected to lead to a more inclusive policy that recognizes and rewards the contributions of women officers in the maritime force.

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