SC Urges Coast Guard to Acknowledge the March of Time in Granting Permanent Commission to Woman Officer

Story Highlights
  • The Delhi high court is already hearing her case to permanently join the Coast Guard, but she went to the top court to fight a temporary HC order that wouldn't hold her release.
  • The petitioner has flown 4,500 hours on Dornier aircraft, which is the most of any male or female officer of her rank in any force, and she has bravely saved over 300 lives at sea

The Supreme Court told the Indian Coast Guard on Monday to “note the march of time” when it comes to permanent commissioning of women in the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The court also told the Indian Coast Guard to bring back into service a woman short-service commission officer who was let go in December 2023 until it decides on her request for equal pay with men in the same position.

A court led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud laughed at the Coast Guard’s resistance, which was led by Attorney General R. Venkataramani and Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Vikramjeet Banerjee.

“Take a look at how well you fight having a single woman in the Coast Guard.” This is how Cornelia Sorabjee, India’s first female lawyer, fought back when she was told, “You are not good enough.” Women were told they weren’t good enough when they joined the Army and Air Force. They were also told in the Navy, “We don’t have toilets for you.” Look at how time moves.”

The order said, “This court has already made decisions about the Army, Navy, and Air Force.” It’s too bad that the Indian Coast Guard keeps being different.

It was Priyanka Tyagi’s case that the court was looking at. At the time of her release from force on December 31, 2023, she was an assistant commandant (general duty). According to Tyagi’s plea, she was the best of her group because she had 3,700 flying hours, more than any male pilot. Her superiors even suggested that she be absorbed because of her excellent service.

The Delhi high court is still considering her request for a permanent commission, so the top court told the apex court to take over the case.

“This case should be heard by this court because Article 15 of the Constitution says that people have the right not to be discriminated against on a number of grounds, including gender.”

Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra were also on the bench. As a temporary move, they said, “We direct that the petitioner’s services shall be continued in the Coast Guard as on the date she was released until further orders.” She will be given a job that fits her skills and qualifications.

In the Army and Air Force, women short service commission officers (WSSCO) were given the same rights as male officers after the Babita Puniya case in 2020. The top court said that all serving WSSCOs should be considered for a permanent commission (PC), even if some of them had served for more than 14 or 20 years. People who don’t choose PC after 14 years can stay in their jobs until they have 20 years of pensionable service.

In a separate decision in the Annie Nagaraja case, which was brought by women SSCOs who wanted to be permanently commissioned in the Indian Air Force, the court gave the same relief in March 2020 as it did in the Babita Puniya case. A year later, in March 2021, the Supreme Court made another decision in Nitisha v. Union of India. This time, it threw out the unfair standards that the Army’s special board had used to decide the cases of women officers for PC.

The attorney general told the court that this had nothing to do with gender justice, and the Coast Guard did not object on that basis.

You can’t look at this problem from a theoretical point of view. There are differences in the systems in place that make it impossible to compare this to short service commission (SSC) women leaders in the Army, Navy, and Air Force. “There was also never any opposition to gender equality when I talked to Coast Guard,” he said.

“You (Coast Guard) have all the reasons to deny what is hers,” the court said. Do you treat women cops this way? She has worked for 14 years and has 3,700 hours of flight time.

The court was told by ASG Banerjee that the Coast Guard was becoming more open to women becoming regular officers. He went on to say that the petitioner picked the short service commission stream because she knew that the general duty stream she had wanted did not offer permanent commission. He said that there are women who work full-time as cops in the law wing.

The petitioner became an SSC officer in November 2009, so the court wanted to know if any other women had been hired as regular officers for general duty since then.

Archana Pathak is a senior lawyer. Dave told the court that women are not allowed to join as regular officers unless the law says so. She asked why the Coast Guard, which is part of the country’s defense, wouldn’t let women join when women were treated equally in the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

What the bench told Banerjee was, “Everyone should be treated the same, and there should be a level playing field!” We won’t stop working until there is real equality between men and women.

In March, in response to Tyagi’s petition, the Center and the Coast Guard filed a common affidavit saying that their ships are not meant to have women working at sea. It said, “The Coast Guard’s current infrastructure, including ships and bases, needs to be changed before female officers can be sent on missions at sea with male officers.”

It also said, “Several operational steps need to be taken in order to make their entry stronger.” Provision for a bigger number of women officers will not be possible without these operational steps being taken.

The statement also said that only 10% of the shore billets (lodgments for officers) that are approved for women officers are being considered. This is despite the fact that 66% of the billets approved are for staffing afloat units (seaborne ships) and 33% are for staffing shore support units. “The older ships were much smaller and couldn’t provide separate housing and other facilities for women officers. In the future, the ships and bases will be changed to accommodate these needs.”

In 2009, Tyagi was made assistant commandant of the Coast Guard. Not long after she started her job, in November 2009, the assistant commandant woman (general duty) short service recruitment rules came out, which said that “women officers shall not have the option to change over to permanent entry scheme.” The Delhi high court is already hearing her case to permanently join the Coast Guard, but she went to the top court to fight a temporary HC order that wouldn’t hold her release.

Tyagi was part of the first-ever all-women crew on a Dornier aircraft, which was sent to the eastern region in 2016 to do marine patrolling as the plane’s captain. She learned how to fly for 13 months in order to become a pilot. “The petitioner has flown 4,500 hours on Dornier aircraft, which is the most of any male or female officer of her rank in any force, and she has bravely saved over 300 lives at sea,” her plea to the highest court said.

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