Landmark Case: Nitisha vs Union of India Recognizes Indirect Discrimination Against Women Officers in Army

Introduction

The landmark case of Lt. Col Nitisha vs. Union of India (2021) is a significant victory for gender equality in the Indian Army. This judgment by the Supreme Court of India recognized indirect discrimination faced by women officers and mandated the faithful implementation of the Babita Puniya judgment to ensure equal opportunity and fair treatment for women in the military.

Key Facts of the Case

  • Implementation of Babita Puniya Judgement: 

This case stemmed from the implementation issues arising from the Secretary, Ministry of Defence v. Babita Puniya (2020) judgment. The Babita Puniya case had earlier granted Permanent Commission (PC) to Women Short Service Commissioned Officers (WSSCOs) in the Army.

  • Government’s Failure to Implement: 

Despite the Babita Puniya judgment, the Central Government failed to effectively implement its directives. This led to Lt. Col Nitisha filing a writ petition highlighting the ongoing discriminatory practices.

  • Petitioner’s Contentions: 

Lt. Col Nitisha contended that the selection process for PC remained discriminatory against women officers. The guidelines issued post Babita Puniya case were not followed, leading to unfair treatment.

Core Issues Involved

  • Indirect Discrimination: A central question in this case was whether the criteria set by the Central Government amounted to indirect discrimination against women officers.

Landmark Verdict

  • Systemic Bias Against Women: 

The Court ruled that the Army’s evaluation criteria exhibited systemic discrimination against women. The medical evaluation methods, influenced by the Babita Puniya case, resulted in unequal treatment due to inherent biases. These biases failed to consider the physiological realities and career progression of women officers.

  • Judicial Directions Issued: 

The Court issued several directions to address the identified issues:

  • Flawed Selection Criteria: The administrative requirement of benchmarking women SSCOs with the lowest-ranked male officers for PC grant was deemed arbitrary and cancelled.
  • PC Eligibility for Women Officers: Women officers meeting the cut-off grade of 60% in the Special Selection Board were entitled to PC, subject to medical clearance and disciplinary records.
  • Review of Medical Criteria: Medical criteria were to be applied at the 5th or 10th year of service. Reconsideration of all rejected cases based on medical grounds was mandated within a month.
  • Benefits and Future Course of Action: Previously granted PCs remained valid. WSSCOs ineligible for PC were granted one-time benefits as per Babita Puniya case. The Court ordered a review of ACR evaluation methods and cutoffs to prevent disproportionate impact on future WSSCOs. Serving WSSCOs were assured continued service with full benefits until all court directions were implemented.

Conclusion

The Lt. Col Nitisha vs. Union of India case is a landmark judgment that recognizes indirect discrimination as a violation of the Indian Constitution. The Court’s verdict ensures the equal treatment of women officers in the Army by enforcing the Babita Puniya judgment and dismantling discriminatory practices. This judgment paves the way for a more inclusive and equitable Indian Army.░