Union Of India vs Ld. Cdr. Annie Nagaraja, … on 17 March, 2020


Supreme Court of India

Union Of India vs Ld. Cdr. Annie Nagaraja, … on 17 March, 2020

Author: Hon’Ble Dr. Chandrachud

Bench: Hon’Ble Dr. Chandrachud, Hemant Gupta

                                                                           REPORTABLE



                              IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
                               CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION


                                  Civil Appeal Nos 2182-87 of 2020
                                  @ SLP (C) Nos. 30791-96 of 2015


          Union of India & Ors.                                      ...Appellants



                                                      Versus



          Lt Cdr Annie Nagaraja & Ors.                               ...Respondents



                                               With
                                      C.A. No. 2181 of 2020
                                    @ SLP (C) No 30337 of 2016
                                               With
                                   C.A. Nos. 10225-10230 of 2016
                                               With
                                       C.A. No. 3359 of 2017
                                               With
                                       C.A. No. 5392 of 2019
                                               With
                                       C.A. No. 2177 of 2020
                                     @ Diary No. 26406 of 2017
                                                With
                                       C.A. No. 2178 of 2020
Signature Not Verified               @ Diary No 27060 of 2019
Digitally signed by
CHETAN KUMAR
Date: 2020.03.17
13:18:38 IST
                                             And With
Reason:

                                       C.A. No. 2179 of 2020
                                     @ Diary No 27061 of 2019

                                                 1
                                   JUDGMENT



Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, J



Index

A       Background

of the dispute

A.1 Annie Nagaraja‘s case

A.2 Priya Khurana‘s case

B Statutory and Policy framework

C Submissions

D Preliminary Objection

E Validity of the policy letter dated 26 September 2008

F The stereotypical sailor

G Ex turpi causa non oritur actio

H Directions

2
PART A

A Background of the dispute

1. The present batch of Civil Appeals comes up for adjudication from two

decisions, the first in point of time being that of the High Court of Delhi and the

second, being that of the Armed Forces Tribunal1.

A.1 Annie Nagaraja’s case

2. Six Writ Petitions under Article 226 of the Constitution were instituted

before the Delhi High Court. The petitioners, seventeen in number, were women

officers who joined the Indian Navy as Short Service Commissioned2 Officers in

the Logistics and Air Traffic Controller3 cadres and the Education branch. Six of

them were officers in the Logistics cadre, nine in the Education branch and two in

the ATC cadre. Their grievance is that despite completing fourteen years of

service as SSC officers, they were not considered for the grant of Permanent

Commissions4 and were discharged from service.

3. The case which was set up before the High Court was that women SSC

officers of the Indian Army and Air Force had been granted PCs by the judgment

of the Delhi High Court in Babita Puniya v Union of India5 (―Babita Puniya‖).

The Air Force implemented the decision of the Delhi High Court. The Indian Army

was in appeal before this Court against the judgment in Babita Puniya.

1
―AFT‖
2
―SSC‖
3
―ATC‖
4
―PC‖
5
Writ Petition (C) No. 1597 of 2013, delivered on 12 March 2010

3
PART A

4. The Union of India in the Ministry of Defence6 issued a policy letter dated

26 September 2008 granting PCs to SSC officers in all the three branches of the

Armed Forces. However, the offer was restricted to certain categories and was to

operate prospectively for the benefit of future batches inducted on SSCs after

January 2009. The Delhi High Court expressly noted that the denial of combat

roles to women was not in issue in the Writ Petitions. By its judgment dated 4

September 2015, the High Court issued the following directions:

―50.a) The claim of absorption in areas of operation not open
for recruitment of women officers cannot be sustained being a
policy decision.

b) The Short Service Commissioned Officers of the Navy
who had opted for PC and were not granted PC but instead
were granted extension of SSC and were not retired at the
time of filing of these Writ Petitions and had attained the age
of retirement during the pendency of the present petitions,
they shall be offered PC within a period of 6 weeks from the
date of this order. They shall be entitled to all consequential
benefits such as promotion and other financial benefits
subject to their medical fitness. However, their appointment to
the post of PC shall be subject to the final outcome of the said
SLP i.e. CC No. 10437/2010 title Secr. Ministry of Defence v.
Babita Puniya & Anr
. pending consideration before the
Hon‘ble Supreme Court;

c) With respect to the petitioners who had attained the
age of superannuation prior to the filing of the Writ Petitions
by them the following directions are required to be issued:

1. The respondents shall reinstate these
petitioners within a period of six weeks from today on
their respective posts;

2. Such reinstatement shall be subject to the
final outcome of the said SLP i.e. CC No. 10437/2010
titled Secr. Ministry of Defence vs. Babita Puniya &
Anr
. pending consideration before the Hon‘ble
Supreme Court;

3. The petitioners are entitled to no benefits;

4. The reinstatement of the petitioners shall be
subject to their medical fitness.‖

6
―MoD‖

4
PART A

5. Since the earlier decision of the Delhi High Court in Babita Puniya was

the subject matter of proceedings before this Court, the direction in regard to

offering PCs was made subject to the decision that would eventually emerge from

this Court. The first petitioner in the Writ Petition7 before the High Court was

Lieutenant Commander Annie Nagaraja. Hence, the decision of the Delhi High

Court in that batch of cases has, in the course of the submissions, been adverted

to as the decision in Annie Nagaraja v Union of India (―Annie Nagaraja’s

case‖). In the appeals arising out of the judgment of the Delhi High Court in

Annie Nagaraja, an interim order was passed by this Court on 20 November

2015 which directed:

―Pending further orders from this Court we direct that such of
the respondents (petitions before the High Court) as were
serving as short service commissioned officers in the Navy as
on 26th September 2008, shall be allowed to continue on the
terms and conditions applicable to them in that capacity. We
further direct that such of the officers out of the respondents
(petitioners before the High Court) as may have been
released from service after 26th September 2008, upon
completion of the short service commission tenure, shall be
permitted to join back in terms of the order passed by the
High Court and continue in service in that capacity.‖

By this order, protection was restricted only to those women officers in service on

26 September 2008.

A.2 Priya Khurana’s case

6. The second batch of proceedings which has led to appeals before this

Court arises from the decision of the AFT at the Principal Bench in New Delhi in a

7
Writ Petition (C) No. 7336 of 2010

5
PART A

batch of six Original Applications.8 The lead Original Application9 was instituted

by Commander Priya Khurana. The applicants before the AFT in this batch of

cases were seven SSC officers recruited in 2002 in the Indian Navy in the

Logistics and ATC cadres and the Education branch. They sought the grant of

PCs and challenged the policy document dated 26 September 2008 as

unconstitutional to the extent that it operated prospectively and restricted the

grant of PCs to a few cadres/branches. Consequently, there was also a challenge

to the implementation guidelines dated 3 December 2008 issued by the

Integrated Headquarters of the MoD. The officers challenged their release from

service on the completion of their tenure of SSC engagement.

7. The AFT, by a judgment dated 11 August 2016, came to the conclusion

that on 25 February 1999, the Union Government in the MoD had taken a policy

decision for the grant of PCs to both men and women officers in terms of

Regulation 203 of Chapter IX of the Naval Ceremonial, Conditions of Service and

Miscellaneous Regulations 196310, which is contained in Part III of the

Regulations. The AFT held that the policy decision dated 25 February 1999 held

the field and the subsequent policy decision of 26 September 2008 was arrived at

without considering the earlier policy decision and as a matter of fact, even the

Union Defence Minister had been kept in the dark about the earlier decision.

While accepting the principle that it is open to government to review and alter an

earlier policy decision, the AFT held that an alteration has to be based on a

reasonable exercise of power. The subsequent decision making the grant of PCs

8
―OA‖
9
OA No. 143 of 2016
10
―1963 Regulations‖

6
PART A

only prospective and confining it to stipulated branches was held to be invalid.

The AFT has placed a considerable degree of reliance on the fact that the

advertisements on the basis of which the SSC officers were inducted had held

out a specific representation that the officers would be considered for the grant of

PCs.

8. The AFT accordingly directed the reconsideration of the request for the

grant of PCs on the basis of Regulation 203 and the policy decision dated 25

February 1999 within six months. Until this exercise was undertaken, the

applicants were directed to be continued as SSC officers on existing terms and

conditions. The decision of the AFT was subsequent to the earlier judgment of

the Delhi High Court in Annie Nagaraja, which is the subject matter of appeals

instituted before this Court. The AFT clarified that its direction to reconsider the

case of the SSC women officers for the grant of PCs was subject to the decision

of this Court in Annie Nagaraja. While directing the consideration of the claim of

SSC women officers to the grant of PCs by the Indian Navy, the AFT stopped

short of the direction which was issued by the Delhi High Court for the grant of

PCs. The AFT was of the view that the appropriate relief was to direct that the

applicants be considered by the authorities and to this extent it disagreed with the

absolute relief granted by the Delhi High Court for the grant of PCs.

9. The judgment of the AFT has been assailed by the Union Government.

The applicants before the AFT are in appeal to the extent that the wider relief

which was granted by the Delhi High Court was denied to them by the AFT. The

first applicant in the OAs instituted before the AFT was Commander Priya

7
PART B

Khurana. Hence, the decision of the AFT in this batch of cases has, in the course

of the submissions, been adverted to as the decision in Priya Khurana v Union

of India (―Priya Khurana’s case‖). In the appeals arising out of the judgment of

the AFT in Priya Khurana, an interim order was passed by this Court on 28

October 2016 directing the continuation in service of the SSC officers in that

capacity until further orders.

B Statutory and policy framework

10. Section 9 of the Navy Act 195711 deals with the eligibility for appointment

or enrolment in the Indian Navy. Section 9 reads thus:

―9. Eligibility for appointment or enrolment.—(1) No person
who is not a citizen of India shall be eligible for appointment
or enrolment in the Indian Navy or the Indian Naval Reserve
Forces except with the consent of the Central Government:
Provided that nothing in this section shall render a person
ineligible for appointment or enrolment in the Indian Navy or
the Indian Naval Reserve Forces on the ground that he is a
subject of Nepal.

(2) No woman shall be eligible for appointment or enrolment
in the Indian Navy or the Indian Naval Reserve Forces except
in such department, branch or other body forming part thereof
or attached thereto and subject to such conditions as the
Central Government may, by notification in the Official
Gazette specify in this behalf.‖

11. Sub-section (2) of Section 9 conditions the eligibility of women to be

appointed or enrolled in the Navy or the Indian Naval Reserve Forces. The

provision commences with the expression ―no woman shall be eligible‖ and

follows it up with the expression ―except in such department, branch or other

body‖. The prohibition on the appointment or enrolment of women is subject to

the lifting of the restriction by the Union Government. The Union Government has

11
―1957 Act‖

8
PART B

been conferred with the authority to stipulate the departments, branches or

bodies forming a part of or attached to the Navy or the Indian Naval Reserve

Forces in which women can be appointed or enrolled. The Union Government is

also vested with the authority to define the conditions on which the appointment

or enrolment may take place.

12. The provisions of the Bill which were to lead to the enactment of the 1957

Act were deliberated upon in a report of the Joint Committee of Parliament. A

note of dissent was appended by four Members of the Joint Committee on the

restriction which was proposed to be imposed on the appointment of women in

the Indian Navy. While opposing the restriction proposed in the report of the Joint

Committee, the dissenting members (TCN Menon, KK Warior, VK Dhage and V

Prasad Rao) stated:

―An important provision of the Bill is the one which excludes
women from the right of joining the Indian Navy. It will be
superfluous if we record in detail the courage and capacity
shown by the women of India in the past and especially
during our glorious freedom struggle. In almost all countries
women have proved themselves to be equal to men if not
more and today there is no sphere of life nor is there any kind
of work where women cannot compete with men. Moreover
we feel that the admission of women into our armed services
will, to a very large extent, have a salutary and welcome
effect upon the outlook and morale of our fighting men. This
injustice done to our women should be removed and we
recommend that the clause which prohibits women from
joining the navy be removed.‖

13. The dissenting Members stated that restrictions on the fundamental rights

of the members of the Armed Forces should be only to the extent strictly

necessary for the maintenance of discipline and the discharge of duties. In their

9
PART B

view, ―the law that Parliament enacts today in respect of the Indian Navy should

be a law which will facilitate the development of a Navy composed of contented

men and women whose primary allegiance shall be to the people of India‖. The

object, they stated, of achieving such a fighting forces should be ―not to suppress

their democratic rights as far as possible‖.12

14. The dissent has remained a note in history. The task of the Court is to

construe the provisions of Section 9 as they stand.

15. Section 184 of the 1957 Act contemplates regulations being made by the

Central Government for governance, command, discipline, recruitment,

conditions of service and regulation of the Naval Forces and, generally for the

purpose of effectuating the provisions of the 1957 Act. The power to frame

regulations includes those in relation to the rank, terms and conditions of service,

pay, pension, allowances and other benefits. The Regulations are required to be

laid before each House of Parliament under Section 185. Part III of Chapter I of

the Regulations for the Indian Navy contain the 1963 Regulations. The AFT in its

decision noted that in the absence of a counter to the stand taken by the

applicants that the 1963 Regulations are statutory in nature, it will have to be

presumed that the Regulations are referable to the provisions of Section 184.

16. Section II deals with officers in the Executive branch inducted on SSCs.

Regulation 122(1) makes provisions governing ―the entry, training and promotion

of officers granted SSCs in the Executive branch of the Indian Navy‖. Regulation

122(2) contains a stipulation that the candidate must be an ―unmarried male‖:
12
We acknowledge the research into this aspect made by Ms Liz Mathew, learned Counsel who has drawn it to
the attention of the Court during the course of the hearing.

10
PART B

―(2) Nationality. – A candidate must be an unmarried male
and must fulfil the conditions regarding the nationality as laid
down by the Government.‖

17. Under Regulation 122(9), an officer is to be on probation for one year or

until the completion of initial training, whichever is later. Regulation 122(14)

provides:

―(14) Permanent Commissions. – Suitable officers may be
considered for the grant of Permanent Commission in the
Indian Navy at any time after successful completion of the
period of probation, subject to the existence of vacancies and
the regulations current at the time.‖

18. Section IV of the Regulations deals with officers in the Engineering branch

inducted on SSCs. Regulation 124(2) contains a provision similar to Regulation

122(2) which restricts SSCs only to ―unmarried males‖. Section VI provides for

SSCs in the Electrical branch. Regulation 126(2) contains a similar restriction of

eligibility to ―unmarried males‖. Regulations 124(14) and 126 (14) contain

provisions for the grant of PCs.

19. Chapter IX of the Regulations is titled ―Grant of Permanent Commission to

Short Service Commission Officers‖. Regulation 203 contains the following

stipulation in regard to the grant of PCs :

―203. Grant of Permanent Commission. – (1) Subject to
the availability of vacancies in the stabilized cadre of the
Navy, Permanent Commission may be granted from time
to time to Short Service Commission Officers of the rank
of Sub-Lieutenant and above who are considered suitable
and are recommended by the Chief of the Naval Staff.

(2) Officers granted Permanent Commission may be
transferred with their existing rank and seniority. The
retention of any acting rank held by an officer at the time
of transfer to a Permanent Commission shall be governed
by Regulation 202.

11

PART B

(3) Short Service Commission Officers selected for the
grant of Permanent Commission in the Navy shall
conform to the medical standard laid down by the Chief of
the Naval Staff from time to time.‖

20. Regulation 203 (1) conditions the grant of PCs to three factors:

(i) Availability of vacancies in the stabilised cadre;

      (ii)       Consideration of suitability; and

      (iii)      A recommendation of the Chief of Naval Staff.


Regulation 203 applies to SSC officers of the rank of Sub-lieutenant and above.

21. A comparison may be made of the provisions of Regulation 122 (14) and

Regulation 203. Regulation 122(14) stipulates that suitable officers may be

considered for the grant of PC in the Navy after the successful completion of the

period of probation, subject to the existence of vacancies and the regulations

current at the time. Regulation 203 provides for the consideration of the grant of

PCs from time to time to SSC officers of the rank of Sub-lieutenant and above

subject to their suitability, availability of vacancies in the stabilized cadre of the

Navy and the recommendation of the Chief of Naval Staff. Regulation 122(14)

applies to all officers in the Executive branch of SSC officers. Regulation 203

applies to all officers of the rank of Sub-lieutenant and above. The AFT observed

that Regulation 203 would apply to the OAs before it since the applicants were

recruited as SSC officers in the rank of Sub-lieutenant and were promoted

thereafter.

12
PART B

22. The Indian Navy consists of four branches – Executive, Electrical,

Engineering and Education. On 9 October 1991, the Union Government,

pursuant to the enabling power conferred by Section 9(2), issued a notification by

which women were made eligible for appointment as officers of the Indian Navy

in three cadres/branches which were:

      (i)       Logistics;

      (ii)      Law; and

      (iii)     Education.


The Law and Logistics cadres belong to the Executive branch of the Indian Navy.

23. At the material time when the 1963 Regulations were notified, no

notification had been issued in pursuance of the power conferred under Section

9(2) and no women were commissioned as SSC officers. Consequently, the

regulations were restricted only to male officers. The notification which was

published in the Gazette of India on 9 October 1991 was to be in force for five

years. The consequence of the issuance of this notification under Section 9(2)

was that the restriction on the appointment or enrolment of women was lifted for

specified cadres/branches of the Navy. Once the notification was issued under

Section 9(2), the provisions in the 1963 Regulations restricting the grant of SSCs

to males would stand lifted insofar as the cadres/branches where the entry of

women was notified.

24. On 20 December 1991, the Union Government in the MoD addressed a

communication to the Chief of Naval Staff conveying the sanction of the

President for the induction of SSC officers, including women in the Education

13
PART B

branch of the Indian Navy and stipulating the terms and conditions of service.

Para 2 of the letter stipulated the eligibility for appointment on SSCs thus:

―Eligibility. A candidate must be an unmarried male
or female and must fulfill conditions regarding the
nationality as laid down by the Government.‖

(Emphasis supplied)

Para 3 stipulated that candidates would be inducted on SSC for seven years and

that the period could be extended with the consent of the officer for two years at a

time. Para 4 contemplated that the policy in regard to the grant of PCs would be

promulgated in 1997:

―Grant of Permanent Commission. The policy in this
regard will be promulgated in 1997.‖

Para 6 stipulated that the rules for entry and promotion would be those

prescribed in Part III of the 1963 Regulations of the Navy, as sanctioned by the

Union Government for the entry of male / PC officers in the Education branch

except as specified therein. Para 15 stipulated that the induction of women under

the scheme was to be initially for a period of five years, which would be reviewed

thereafter.

25. The above notification dated 20 December 1991 had the following

reference number:

―MP/0417/NHQ/1110/DO/D(N-IV)‖

On the same day – 20 December 1991 – the Union Government in the MoD

addressed another communication to the Chief of Naval Staff conveying the

sanction of the President for the induction of SSC officers including women into

14
PART B

the Law and Logistics cadres of the Executive branch of the Indian Navy and

stipulating the terms and conditions of service therein. The letter stipulated that

the terms and conditions of service would be those prescribed in Regulation 122

of the 1963 Regulations and in the Union Government‘s letter dated 20

December 1991 regarding the entry of SSC officers in the Education branch,

except as set out in the notification. The reference number of this notification

was:

―MP/0417/NHQ/1111/DO/D(N-IV)‖

26. On 1 July 1992, the Union Government in the MoD sanctioned the intake

of thirty-five officers on SSCs for a period of five years in the ATC cadre.

Paragraph 11 specified the policy for the grant of PC in the following terms:

―11. Grant of Permanent Commission. There will be no
provision for the grant of Permanent Commission.‖

It was stipulated that no PCs would be granted (for both men and women) in the

ATC cadre.

27. The Southern Naval Command, by a letter dated 15 May 1998 made a

reference to an earlier letter dated 20 April 1998 of the Naval Headquarters

clarifying that the services of women SSC officers were extendable for a period of

upto ten years with the consent of the officers, with each extension being of not

more than two years.

28. On 6 November 1998, the Union Government once again exercised its

authority under Section 9(2) to make women eligible for appointment as officers

in all the branches of the Indian Navy:

15
PART B

(a) Executive;

(b) Engineering;

(c) Electrical; and

(d) Education.

The earlier exercise of power under Section 9(2) had rendered women eligible for

appointment as officers of the Indian Navy in the Logistics and Law cadres and

the Education branch. The subsequent notification dated 6 November 1998 13

extended the field of eligibility under Section 9(2) to all four branches in the Indian

Navy.

29. On 25 February 1999, the Union Government in the MoD issued a

communication to the Chief Naval Staff. The contents of the notification have a

substantive bearing in the present case and are hence extracted below:


No. MP/0417/1/NHQ/425D(N-II)
Government of India,
Ministry of Defence,
New Delhi, the 25th February, 1999

To

The Chief of the Naval Staff
(with 30 spare copies)

Subject : TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF SERVICE OF
SSC OFFICERS (INCLUDING WOMEN)

Sir,

I am directed to refer to GOI, MOD letters No
MP/0417/NHQ/1110/DO/D(N-IV) dated 20 Dec 1991 and

13
Published in the Gazette of India on 28 November 1998

16
PART B

MP/0417/1/NHQ/1111/DO/D(N-IV) dated 20 Dec 1991
and convey the sanction of the President for the
following:-

(a) Grant of Permanent Commission. The policy for grant
of Permanent Commission will be in accordance with
Article 203, Chapter IX of Regulations Navy Part III.

(b) Employment/Sea Service. Women officers of all
Branches/cadres may also be directed to serve on
board ships, during training & subsequent
employment should the exigencies of Service so
require.

2. This issues with the concurrence of the Ministry of
Defence (Finance/Navy) vide their ID No. 22/NA/S of
1999.

Yours faithfully,

(SN Gupta)
Under Secretary to the Government of India

Copy to :-

The DA DS, New Delhi
The DDADS, Mumbai
The CGDA, New Delhi – 2 copies
The CDA (N), Mumbai – 2 copies (one signed in ink)
The DFA (N), New Delhi – 2 copies‖

30. The above communication contains a reference to the two earlier letters

dated 20 December 1991, which we have noted above bearing the reference

numbers MP/0417/NHQ/1110/DO/D(N-IV) and MP/0417/NHQ/1111/DO/D(N-IV).

31. The two significant facets of the above communication dated 25 February

1999 are: first, the policy for the grant of PCs to women officers would be in

accordance with the Regulation 203 of Chapter IX of the 1963 Regulations; and

second, women officers of all branches and cadres may be directed to serve on

board ships, both during training and subsequent employment in accordance with

the exigencies of service.

17
PART B

32. Subsequently, on 27 February 2002, the Union Government conveyed the

sanction of the President to extend the tenure of SSC officers in the Navy to

fourteen years.

33. In July 2002, the Indian Navy issued an advertisement inviting applications

from men and women for appointment as SSC officers in the ATC and Logistics

cadres and the Education branch. While inviting applications, the advertisement

specified that:

― SHORT SERVICE COMMISSION

5. Short Service Commission is granted for a term of
07 years, extendable to 10 years. On completion of tenure
of SSC, officers are released with gratuity as admission
under the rules. Based on their performance and
requirements of service, the deserving officers may also
be considered for Permanent Commission.‖

34. There was a specific representation that ‗deserving officers‘ may be

considered for PCs based on their performance and the requirements of service.

35. It is necessary to note at this juncture that the women SSC officers in

Annie Nagaraja’s case were inducted between 1992 and 2001 pursuant to the

notifications dated 9 October 1991, 20 December 1991 and 1 July 1992. On the

other hand, the women SSC officers in Priya Khurana’s case were inducted as

SSC officers pursuant to the advertisement issued in July 2002.

36. On 26 September 2008, the MoD issued a communication to the Chiefs of

the Army, Naval and Air Staff regarding the grant of PCs to SSC women officers.

The communication, which is the subject matter of the challenge in the present

appeals, is extracted below:



                                            18
                                                                                  PART B



                   ―              No. 12(1)/2004-D(AG). Pt II
                                                        Government of
                   India,
                                                         Ministry of Defence
                                        New Delhi, the 26th September, 2008

                   To
                   The Chief of the Army Staff
                   The Chief of the Naval Staff
                   The Chief of the Air Staff

Subject: Permanent Commission to SSC Women Officers

I am directed to convey the sanction of the
President to offer Permanent Commission prospectively to
Short Service Commission (Women) Officers to be
inducted in Judge Advocate General (JAG) Department
and Army Education Corps (AEC) of Army and their
corresponding Branch/Cadre in Navy and Air Force.
Accounts Branch of the Air Force and Naval Constructor
of the Navy in addition to current provision for Grant of PC
to SSC (Men) Officers.

2. Suitable administrative instruction in this regard
will be issued by respective Service HQs.

3. This issues with the concurrence of the MoD(Fin)
vide their UO No. 552/AG/PA dated 26.9.2008.

(S.C. Barmma)
Director (AG)
Copy to :- As per standard Distribution”

37. The two significant facets of the above communication are: first, the grant

of PC was made prospective to SSC women officers ―to be inducted‖ in the

specified cadres/branches. As a consequence, PCs were denied to women SSC

officers who were already in service; and second, PCs were confined to specific

cadres and branches in the case of SSC women officers in the Army, Navy and

Air Force. Insofar as the Navy is concerned, PCs were to be granted in the

cadres/branches corresponding to the Judge Advocate General14 and Education

branches of the Army in addition to the Naval Constructor cadre of the Navy. The

14
―JAG‖

19
PART B

communication dated 26 September 2008 contains no reference to the earlier

policy communication dated 25 February 1999.

38. On 3 December 2008, the Integrated Headquarters of the MoD (Navy)

issued implementation guidelines for selecting SSC officers for the grant of PCs

in the Navy from the following branches/cadres:

Srl   Branch/Cadre                               Batch Commencing             Remarks
(a)   Education                                  Jun 09                       Men and Women
(b)   X/Law                                      When scheduled               officers
(c)   E/Naval Architecture                       Jul 09


39. The tabulation above indicates that the grant of PCs was envisaged only

prospectively for batches inducted after January 2009 and in only three

cadres/branches as noted above. This was in terms of the earlier decision dated

26 September 2008. Para 4 of the implementation guidelines provides for the

constitution of a board for the selection of SSC officers for the grant of PCs:

―4. Constitution of Board. A Board will be constituted
under the chairmanship of COP for selecting SSC officers
of Branches/Cadres mentioned at Para 2 above for the
grant of PC. The Board will be guided by Regulation 203
of Regulations for the Indian Navy Part III (Statutory).‖

40. Para 5 which deals with selection provides as follows:

―5. Selection. The eligible officers are thereafter to be
empaneled for grant of PC. The Branch/Cadre-wise
selection would be based on inter-se merit based on
ACRs held on the officers under consideration and subject
to availability of vacancies.‖

20
PART B

41. Selection, in other words, of officers for the grant of PCs is to be based on

inter se merit determined on the basis of the Annual Confidential Reports15 of the

officers under consideration and subject to the availability of vacancies.

42. The judgment of the Delhi High Court in Babita Puniya has been the

subject matter of the recent decision rendered by this Court in The Secretary,

Ministry of Defence v Babita Puniya16. This Court issued the following

directions:

―69. We accordingly take on record the statement of policy
placed on the record in these proceedings by the Union
Government in the form of the letter dated 25 February 2019
and issue the following directions:

(i) The policy decision which has been taken by the
Union Government allowing for the grant of PCs to
SSC women officers in all the ten streams where
women have been granted SSC in the Indian Army is
accepted subject to the following:

(a) All serving women officers on SSC shall be
considered for the grant of PCs irrespective of any
of them having crossed fourteen years or, as the
case may be, twenty years of service;

(b) The option shall be granted to all women
presently in service as SSC officers;

(c) Women officers on SSC with more than fourteen
years of service who do not opt for being
considered for the grant of the PCs will be entitled
to continue in service until they attain twenty
years of pensionable service;

(d) As a one-time measure, the benefit of continuing
in service until the attainment of pensionable
service shall also apply to all the existing SSC
officers with more than fourteen years of service
who are not appointed on PC;

(e) The expression ―in various staff appointments
only‖ in para 5 and ―on staff appointments only‖ in
para 6 shall not be enforced;

(f) SSC women officers with over twenty years of
service who are not granted PC shall retire on
pension in terms of the policy decision; and

(g) At the stage of opting for the grant of PC, all the
choices for specialisation shall be available to
women officers on the same terms as for the male
SSC officers. Women SSC officers shall be

15
―ACRs‖
16
2020 (3) SCALE 712

21
PART C

entitled to exercise their options for being
considered for the grant of PCs on the same
terms as their male counterparts.

(ii) We affirm the clarification which has been issued in
sub-para (i) of paragraph 61 of the impugned
judgment and order of the Delhi High Court; and

(iii) SSC women officers who are granted PC in
pursuance of the above directions will be entitled to all
consequential benefits including promotion and
financial benefits. However, these benefits would be
made available to those officers in service or those
who had moved the Delhi High Court by filing the Writ
Petitions and those who had retired during the course
of the pendency of the proceedings.‖

C Submissions

43. Mr Sanjay Jain, learned Additional Solicitor General for India prefaced his

submissions by urging:

(i) Sea-going duties in the Indian Navy unlike the Army or Air Force have a

distinctive feature since there is no immediate return to base;

(ii) The policy has been to exclude women from sea-going branches with

the exception of the Logistics cadre;

(iii) There are practical difficulties in allowing the induction of women SSC

officers on PCs: the Indian Navy substantially operates on vessels of a

Russian origin in which there is an absence of toilet facilities for

women; and

(iv) There is a possibility of certain branches involving sea-going duties

being opened up for women officers on PCs in the near future as new

ships are introduced into the Naval fleet.

44. Mr Jain submitted that the Indian Navy does not discriminate between men

and women. In 1991, SSCs were opened up in the Law and Logistics cadres and

22
PART C

the Education branch on a uniform basis. To these branches were added ATC

(1991), Naval Constructor (2001), Naval Armament Inspectorate (2017) and

Observer Specialization (2018). As for PCs, as a result of the policy decision

taken on 26 September 2008, Law and Naval Constructor cadres and the

Education branch were opened up which was followed up in 2017 with the Naval

Armament Inspectorate. Mr Jain submitted that the size of the Indian Navy is

much smaller than the other Armed Forces, as a consequence of which, the

pyramidal structure is saturated comparatively quicker than in the Army and the

Air Force. Elaborating on his submissions, Mr Jain urged that:

(i) The decision of the Delhi High Court in Babita Puniya has been

recently upheld by this Court;

(ii) The provisions of Section 9(2) of the 1957 Act are not under challenge;

(iii) The avenues for women which have opened up in the Indian Navy stem

from the exercise of power under Section 9(2);

(iv) Direct entry through PCs is not a matter in issue in the present appeals;

and

(v) The grant of PCs is not automatic but on the assessment of merit inter

se.

45. In defence of the policy decision taken by the Union Government on 26

September 2008 making the grant of PCs to SSC women officers prospective

and in stipulated cadres/branches, Mr Jain submitted that while envisaging the

grant of SSCs to women on 20 December 1991, it was contemplated that the

policy for the grant of PCs would be promulgated in 1997. On 25 February 1999,

the MoD while outlining the terms and conditions of service of SSC officers

23
PART C

including women stipulated that the policy for the grant of PCs ―will be in

accordance with Regulation 203‖. In his submission, the policy of 1999 was

indicative of the fact that the Union Government wanted to frame a policy in the

future. Such a policy, it was contended, was framed in 2008 on the basis of which

the implementation guidelines were notified. Hence, he urged that in the case of

the Indian Navy, no promise was held out to women officers recruited on SSCs of

being granted PCs in the future. On this basis, it has been urged that no rights

had accrued to SSC women officers on the basis of the policy which was notified

on 25 February 1999. Hence, the Union Government was justified in notifying a

policy for the first time on 26 September 2008 making it prospective and confining

its application to specified cadres/branches.

46. Resisting the above submissions, Mr CU Singh, learned Senior Counsel

urged that:

(i) The restraint which is imposed on the eligibility of women for

appointment or enrolment in the Indian Navy is lifted upon the issuance

of a notification by the Central Government under Section 9(2) of the

1957 Act;

(ii) Upon the issuance of the notifications under Section 9(2) on 9 October

1991 and 6 November 1998, the provisions contained in the 1963

Regulations for the grant of PCs would apply proprio vigore;

(iii) As a consequence, upon the issuance of a notification under Section

9(2), the restrictions imposed in Regulations 122(2), 124(2) and 126(2)

confining eligibility only to male officers would not apply since the

Regulations are subservient to the parent statute;

24

PART C

(iv) Regulation 203 of Chapter IX of the 1963 Regulations contains a

specific provision for the grant of PCs subject to the availability of

vacancies, consideration of suitability and the recommendation of the

Chief of Naval Staff;

(v) On 20 December 1991, the Union Government while opening up

certain cadres/branches for the induction of Short Service

Commissioned officers including women contemplated that the policy

for the grant of PCs would be promulgated in 1997. The policy which

was issued on 25 February 1999 contained a specific reference to the

two letters dated 20 December 1991 of the MoD and is hence referable

to the earlier commitment;

(vi) On 6 November 1998, a notification was issued under Section 9(2)

opening up the appointment of women as officers in the Executive,

Engineering, Electrical and Education branches. These four branches

encompass nineteen sub-branches:

                    Executive branch           -      13

                    Engineering branch         -      2

                    Electrical branch          -      2

                    Education branch           -      2

(vii)    The policy communication dated 25 February 1999 stipulated that the

policy for the grant of PCs will be in accordance with Regulation 203

and specifically permitted sea-service for women;

(viii) The submission of the Union Government that the policy document of

25 February 1999 is only an intent to frame a policy in the future is

25
PART C

belied by the express terms of the document as well as by the

advertisement issued in July 2002 for SSC officers, which contemplated

their consideration for the grant of PCs; and

(ix) The policy issued on 26 September 2008 has justifiably been held to be

arbitrary and invalid by the AFT. The policy contains no reference to the

notifications issued in 1991 or to the Presidential sanction of 25

February 1999. On a review of the files, the AFT came to the

conclusion that the sanction which was issued on 25 February 1999

was not placed before the Board which gave its sanction to the

subsequent policy dated 26 September 2008. As a result of the policy

document dated 26 September 2008, there would be a complete denial

of PCs to those women officers recruited after 1991, including those

recruited under the advertisement issued in July 2002 which expressly

stipulated that PCs may be granted in deserving cases.

On the above rationale, Mr CU Singh has urged that there is no merit in the

appeals filed by the Union of India. Mr CU Singh stressed that according to a

release of the Press Information Bureau, the authorised strength of the Navy as

on 1 July 2018 was 11,352. The held strength was 9,746, resulting in a shortage

of 1,606 officers. As on 1 June 2019, the authorized strength is 11,567 while the

held strength is 10,012, thus resulting in a shortage of 1,555 officers.

47. Mr Santosh Krishnan, learned counsel has urged:

(i) The policy letter dated 26 September 2008, in so far as it is prospective

and has been restricted to certain cadres/branches, is liable to be set

26
PART C

aside. In the Logistics cadre and the Education branch, male officers

are inducted directly as PC officers. The absolute denial of

consideration for the grant of PCs to SSC women officers is

discriminatory in nature;

(ii) The policy letter dated 26 September 2008 is ultra vires the policy letter

dated 25 February 1999 and Regulation 203 of the 1963 Regulation.

The findings of the AFT in this regard are to be upheld. Regulation 203,

as subordinate legislation, outweighs executive instructions;

(iii) The Union Government has challenged before this Court the judgment

of the AFT only in one OA. Consequently, the Union Government is

deemed to have accepted the judgment of the AFT qua the other

women SSC officers who were inducted in pursuance of the

advertisements issued in July 2002; and

(iv) No stay was granted by this Court on the judgment of the AFT. It is the

failure of the Union Government to implement the judgment of the AFT

which has led to cascading litigation since 2016 by officers seeking

similar protection. Around 160 men have been recruited as direct PC

officers in the last ten years. This belies the contention urged on behalf

of the Union Government that there is a ‗personnel saturation‘ in the

Logistics cadre. A saturation in the cadre, if any, is a result of the failure

of the Union Government to implement the judgment of the AFT.

Women SSC officers have been kept out of the zone of consideration

despite the binding directions in Annie Nagaraja’s case and Priya

Khurana’s case.

27
PART C

48. Ms Haripriya Padmanabhan, learned counsel appearing for the respondent

nos. two to six in Annie Nagaraja’s case urged:

(i) SSC male officers have been granted PCs in various departments of

the Navy. The grant of PCs to SSC male officers in certain cadres was

halted following the induction of women on SSCs in those cadres. PCs,

being granted to male officers in these specified streams must also be

extended to women officers inducted on SSCs;

(ii) The notifications issued by the Union Government in 1991 stipulated

that the policy for the grant of PCs would be promulgated in 1997.

Women officers, inducted on SSCs pursuant to these notifications, had

a legitimate expectation that they would be considered for the grants of

PCs;

(iii) The legitimate expectation of the women SSC officers crystalised into a

right upon the issuance of the policy letter dated 25 February 1999,

which states that the grant of PCs shall be in accordance with

Regulation 203 of the 1963 Regulations;

(iv) The advertisements issued in July 2002 contained an express

stipulation that deserving SSC officers may be considered for the grant

of PCs; and

(v) The second to sixth respondents were commissioned as SSC officers

in the Indian Navy between 1992 and 1994 and were among the first

batches of women officers in the Navy. They completed their service

and were released between 2006 and 2008 prior to the issuance of the

policy letter dated 26 September 2008. Though the interim order of this

28
PART C

Court dated 20 November 2015 protected only those women SSC

officers in service on the date of the issuance of the policy, their right of

being considered for the grant of PCs arose by virtue of the policy letter

dated 25 February 1999. Though out of service for over twelve years,

this Court may consider their reinstatement and the grant of PCs.

49. Ms Aishwarya Bhati, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of

Commander Seema Chaudhary (JAG SSC officer) has canvassed submissions

in line with those urged by Mr CU Singh, learned Senior Counsel and Mr Santosh

Krishnan, learned counsel. In addition to these submissions, it was urged that

facially neutral laws, as in the present case, have a discriminatory effect against

women SSC officers. Male officers have, it was urged, always been afforded a

choice between being inducted either as SSC officers or directly as PC officers.

Despite the non-consideration of the grant of PCs to male SSC officers, PC

avenues were in fact available to men. On the other hand, women SSC officers

are neither recruited directly as PC officers nor are SSC women officers

considered for the grant of PCs. This, it was urged, belies the submission of the

Union Government that the non-consideration of both male and women SSC

officers for the grant of PC is gender neutral and not discriminatory.

50. The rival submissions fall for consideration.





                                          29
                                                                            PART D


D       Preliminary Objection

51. Before we deal with the rival submissions on merits, it is necessary to

advert to a preliminary objection which was urged by Mr CU Singh, learned

Senior Counsel to the maintainability of the appeal17 filed by the Union of India in

Priya Khurana’s case. Mr CU Singh urged that when the SSC women officers

sought to challenge the judgment of the AFT, leave to appeal was separately

sought and was granted by the AFT to move this Court. This led to the filing of six

Civil Appeals by the officers18. However, the Union of India sought the leave of

the AFT to file an appeal before this Court19 only in one OA. No leave was sought

to appeal in the other OAs. Mr CU Singh urged that the AFT rendered one

common judgment in six OAs. The Union of India having filed an appeal only in

one of the cases arising from the AFT, it was urged that the common judgment

binds the Union Government and operates as res judicata in the other five OAs.

In this submission, the judgment of the AFT which held that the policy

communication dated 26 September 2008 is ultra vires binds the Union of India in

the five cases where no appeal has been filed. Hence, it was submitted that it is

not open to the Union of India to file an appeal only in one of the six cases where

a common judgment has been delivered on similar facts. In this context, reliance

was placed on the decision of this Court in Sri Gangai Vinayagar Temple v

Meenakshi Anmal20.

17
Civil Appeal 3359 of 2011
18
Civil Appeal No. 10225-30 of 2016
19
Civil Appeal No 3359 of 2017
20
(2015) 3 SCC 624

30
PART D

52. Opposing the above submission, Mr Sanjay Jain, learned ASG submitted

that the decision which was relied on by Mr CU Singh arose in the context of a

civil suit while the scheme under the AFT Act 2007 is distinct.

53. Section 30(1) of the AFT Act 2007 provides as follows:

―30. Appeal to the Supreme Court. – (1) Subject to the
provisions of Section 31, an appeal shall lie to the Supreme
Court against the final decision or order of the Tribunal (other
than an order passed under Section 19):

Provided that such appeal is preferred within a period of
ninety days of the said decision or order.

Provided further that there shall be no appeal against an
interlocutory order of the Tribunal.‖

Section 31 is in the following terms:

―31. Leave to appeal.—(1) An appeal to the Supreme Court
shall lie with the leave of the Tribunal; and such leave shall
not be granted unless it is certified by the Tribunal that a point
of law of general public importance is involved in the decision,
or it appears to the Supreme Court that the point is one which
ought to be considered by that Court.

(2) An application to the Tribunal for leave to appeal to the
Supreme Court shall be made within a period of thirty days
beginning with the date of the decision of the Tribunal and an
application to the Supreme Court for leave shall be made
within a period of thirty days beginning with the date on which
the application for leave is refused by the Tribunal.

(3) An appeal shall be treated as pending until any application
for leave to appeal is disposed of and if leave to appeal is
granted, until the appeal is disposed of; and an application for
leave to appeal shall be treated as disposed of at the
expiration of the time within which it might have been made,
but it is not made within that time.‖

The above provisions were interpreted by a Bench of two learned judges of this

Court in Union of India v Brigadier PS Gill21. This Court held that there are two

distinct routes for filing an appeal against a final order of the AFT (other than an

order passed in the jurisdiction to punish for contempt). The first route is the grant

21
(2012) 4 SCC 463

31
PART D

of leave by the Tribunal to file an appeal before the Supreme Court under Section

31(1). The second route empowers this Court to permit the filing of an appeal

against a final decision or order of the Tribunal if it appears to this Court that the

point is one which ought to be considered by that Court. In this context, the Court

held:

―8. Section 31 of the Act extracted above specifically provides
for an appeal to the Supreme Court but stipulates two distinct
routes for such an appeal. The first route to this Court is
sanctioned by the Tribunal granting leave to file such an
appeal. Section 31(1) in no uncertain terms forbids grant of
leave to appeal to this Court unless the Tribunal certifies that a
point of law of general public importance is involved in the
decision. This implies that Section 31 does not create a
vested, indefeasible or absolute right of filing an appeal to this
Court against a final order or decision of the Tribunal to this
Court. Such an appeal must be preceded by the leave of the
Tribunal and such leave must in turn be preceded by a
certificate by the Tribunal that a point of law of general public
importance is involved in the appeal.

9. The second and the only other route to access this Court is
also found in Section 31(1) itself. The expression ―or it appears
to the Supreme Court that the point is one which ought to be
considered by that Court‖ empowers this Court to permit the
filing of an appeal against any such final decision or order of
the Tribunal.

10. A conjoint reading of Sections 30 and 31 can lead to only
one conclusion viz. there is no vested right of appeal against a
final order or decision of the Tribunal to this Court other than
those falling under Section 30(2) of the Act. The only mode to
bring up the matter to this Court in appeal is either by way of
certificate obtained from the Tribunal that decided the matter
or by obtaining leave of this Court under Section 31 for filing
an appeal depending upon whether this Court considers the
point involved in the case to be one that ought to be
considered by this Court.‖

54. The Court also dealt with the question whether an application for leave to

appeal under Section 31 can be moved directly before the Supreme Court

without first approaching the Tribunal for a certificate in terms of the first part of

Section 31(1). The Court held that an aggrieved party cannot approach this Court

32
PART D

directly for the grant of leave to file an appeal under Section 31(1) read with

Section 31(2). The Court held:

―14. The scheme of Section 31 being that an application for
grant of a certificate must first be moved before the Tribunal,
before the aggrieved party can approach this Court for the
grant of leave to file an appeal. The purpose underlying the
provision appears to be that if the Tribunal itself grants a
certificate of fitness for filing an appeal, it would be
unnecessary for the aggrieved party to approach this Court
for a leave to file such an appeal. An appeal by certificate
would then be maintainable as a matter of right in view of
Section 30 which uses the expression ―an appeal shall lie to
the Supreme Court‖. That appears to us to be the true legal
position on a plain reading of the provisions of Sections 30
and 31.‖

55. The learned ASG has urged that though the Union Government did not

seek the grant of leave by the AFT for the companion five cases and as a matter

of fact sought the grant of leave only in one case, they should not be foreclosed

from challenging the judgment of the AFT. Mr Jain submitted that a common

judgment has been delivered by the AFT dealing with issues of far-reaching

importance bearing on legal questions involved and hence it would be desirable

for the Court to consider the matter on merits.

56. The learned Counsel appearing before this Court have addressed

arguments on the merits of the issues raised in the judgments of the Delhi High

Court and AFT. We are nevertheless required to adjudicate upon the validity and

effect of the policy letter dated 26 September 2008 in the appeals filed by the

SSC women officers in Annie Nagaraja’s and Priya Khurana’s case. In order to

render a final adjudication, we propose to deal with the appeals on merits. We

leave open the question of law raised in the preliminary objection of Mr CU Singh

to be considered in an appropriate case in future.

33
PART E

E Validity of the policy letter dated 26 September 2008

57. Article 33 of the Constitution entrusts to Parliament to determine, by law,

the extent to which any of the rights conferred by Part III of the Constitution can

be restricted or abrogated in their application to the members of the Armed

Forces ―so as to ensure the proper discharge of their duties and the maintenance

of discipline among them‖. Besides the requirement that a restriction must be

determined by law, Article 33 postulates a nexus between the restriction or

abrogation and the need for the proper discharge of duties and the maintenance

of discipline among members of the Armed Forces.

58. In Lt. Col. Prithi Pal Singh Bedi v Union of India,22 the legality of orders

convening a General Court Martial and its composition was questioned. It was

contended that trial by a Court Martial would result in the deprivation of personal

liberty, which can only be done in consonance with Article 21 of the Constitution.

It was contended that any restriction must be by procedure established by law

and the law prescribing such procedure must satisfy the test prescribed by

Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution. Justice D A Desai, writing for a three judge

Bench of this Court noted the competing interests that must be considered in

matters concerning the Armed Forces in the following terms:

―14. While investigating and precisely ascertaining the limits
of inroads or encroachments made by legislation enacted in
exercise of power conferred by Article 33, on the guaranteed
fundamental rights to all citizens of this country without
distinction, in respect of armed personnel, the court should be
vigilant to hold the balance between two conflicting public
interests; namely necessity of discipline in armed personnel
to preserve national security at any cost, because that itself
would ensure enjoyment of fundamental rights by others, and

22
(1982) 3 SCC 140

34
PART E

the denial to those responsible for national security of these
very fundamental rights which are inseparable adjuncts of
civilised life…‖

The Court held that the public interest in the maintenance and preparedness of

the Armed Forces of the nation has to be weighed with an equally compelling

public interest in balancing the abrogation or restriction of fundamental rights of

the officers in the Armed Forces. For this reason, Article 33 specifies that any

restriction imposed must be by law and in order to ensure the proper discharge of

their duties and the maintenance of discipline among them. The Court rejected

the challenge and held:

―…Article 33 does not obligate that Parliament must
specifically adumbrate each fundamental right enshrined in
Part III and to specify in the law enacted in exercise of the
power conferred by Article 33 the degree of restriction or total
abrogation of each right. That would be reading into Article 33
a requirement which it does not enjoin…it is not possible to
accept the submission that the law prescribing procedure for
trial of offences by court martial must satisfy the requirement
of Article 21 because to the extent the procedure is
prescribed by law and if it stands in derogation of Article 21,
to that extent Article 21 in its application to the Armed Forces
is modified by enactment of the procedure in the Army Act
itself.‖

59. In R Viswan v Union of India,23 one of the issues concerned whether

Section 21 of the Army Act, 1950 read with Chapter IV of the Army Rules, 1954 is

within the scope and ambit of Article 33 of the Constitution. Section 21 empowers

the Central Government by notification to make rules restricting ―to such extent

and in such manner as may be necessary‖ certain fundamental rights in their

application to persons subject to the 1950 Act. Justice P N Bhagwati (as the

23
(1983) 3 SCC 401

35
PART E

learned Chief Justice then was), speaking for a Constitution Bench of this Court

held:

―A plain reading thus would reveal that the extent of
restrictions necessary to be imposed on any of the
fundamental rights in their application to the armed forces and
the forces charged with the maintenance of public order for
the purpose of ensuring proper discharge of their duties and
maintenance of discipline among them would necessarily
depend upon the prevailing situation at a given point of time
and it would be inadvisable to encase it in a rigid statutory
formula. The Constitution-makers were obviously anxious
that no more restrictions should be placed than are
absolutely necessary for ensuring proper discharge of
duties and the maintenance of discipline amongst the
armed force personnel and therefore Article 33
empowered Parliament to restrict or abridge within
permissible extent, the rights conferred under Part III of
the Constitution insofar as the armed force personnel are
concerned.‖

(Emphasis supplied)

The Court noted that restrictions imposed upon fundamental rights in exercise of

the power conferred by Article 33 must be ―absolutely necessary for ensuring

proper discharge of duties and the maintenance of discipline‖. The Court held:

―…Parliament was therefore within its power under Article 33
to enact Section 21 laying down to what extent the Central
Government may restrict the Fundamental Rights under
clauses (a), (b) and (c) of Article 19 (1), of any person subject
to the Army Act, 1950, every such person being clearly a
member of the Armed Forces… The guideline for determining
as to which restrictions should be considered necessary by
the Central Government within the permissible extent
determined by Parliament is provided in Article 33 itself,
namely, that the restrictions should be such as are necessary
for ensuring the proper discharge of their duties by the
members of the Armed Forces and the maintenance of
discipline among them. The Central Government has to keep
this guideline before it in exercising the power of imposing
restrictions under Section 21 …‖

36
PART E

This Court, in upholding Section 21 of the 1950 Act, held that the exercise of

such power must necessarily conform to the restrictions inherent in Article 33 of

Constitution. The nexus requirement in Article 33 was affirmed by this Court in

Union of India v LD Balam Singh24 and Mohd. Yunus Khan v State of UP.25

60. Section 9(2) of the 1957 Act conditions the restriction on the appointment

or enrolment of women in the Indian Navy by entrusting to the Union Government

the authority to issue notifications allowing for the engagement of women in

departments, branches or bodies forming a part of or attached to the Navy or the

Indian Naval Reserve Forces. Acting in exercise of this authority, the Union

Government initially issued a notification on 9 October 1991 and thereafter on 6

November 1998. By the first of those notifications, women were made eligible for

appointment as officers in the Indian Navy in the Law and Logistics cadres and

the Education branch. The second notification dated 6 November 1998

broadened the scope of the permissible areas for the entry of women as officers

in the Indian Navy by enabling their entry in all the four branches – Executive,

Engineering, Electrical and Education. Significantly, neither of the notifications

dated 9 October 1991 nor 6 November 1998 restrict the appointment or

enrolment of women only on SSCs. Both notifications stipulate that women shall

―be eligible for appointment as officers in the Indian Navy‖ in the branches

specified. The consequence of the two notifications is to lift the bar envisaged in

Section 9(2) and to allow for the induction of women as officers in the Indian

Navy in the specified cadres/branches.

24

(2002) 9 SCC 73
25
(2010) 10 SCC 539

37
PART E

61. Close on the heels of the first notification dated 9 October 1991 issued

under Section 9(2), the MoD issued two notifications on 20 December 1991 with

successive numbers of reference providing for the terms and conditions of

service of SSC officers, including women. The first letter (bearing reference No.

1110) concerned SSC officers in the Education branch. As we have noted, para 4

of the notification specifically contemplated that the policy in regard to the grant of

PCs would be promulgated in 1997. The second letter (bearing reference No.

1111) concerned SSC officers in the Law and Logistics cadres and adopted the

terms of the earlier letter, save to the extent specified therein. As there was no

specific stipulation concerning the grant of PCs in the second letter, the

stipulation in para 4 of the first notification (bearing reference No. 1110) applies to

SSC officers inducted in the Law and Logistics cadres.

62. Hence from 20 December 1991, it was within the contemplation of the

Union Government that the policy for the induction of SSC officers, including

women, on PCs would be notified within a period of six years. This was because

officers who were inducted on SSCs would have a tenure of seven years. The

policy for the grant of PCs was hence envisaged to be notified before or around

the expiry of the short service tenures notified in 1991. The stipulation on the

tenure of seven years was subsequently extended to ten years in 1998 and to

fourteen years in 2002.

63. It is in the above background, that the policy communication of the Union

Government dated 25 February 1999 has to be understood. Regulation 203 of

38
PART E

the 1963 Rules lays down the norms for the grant of PCs. The grant of PCs is

made subject to:

(i) The availability of vacancies in the stabilised cadre;

      (ii)       Suitability of the candidate; and

      (iii)      A recommendation by the Chief of Naval Staff.


64. The policy communication dated 25 February 1999 was not anticipatory in

nature. What the communication spelt out was that the grant of PCs to SSC

officers would be in terms of Regulation 203. This would cover both men and

women officers serving on SSCs. The expression ―the policy for grant of

Permanent Commission will be‖ in accordance with Regulation 203 cannot be

construed to mean that the policy was yet to be framed or that until a future date

when a policy would be notified, there was no entitlement to be considered for the

grant of PCs. The import of the policy document dated 25 February 1999 was to

bring the grant of PCs to all SSC officers including women in accordance with

Regulation 203.

65. The course of the evolution of policy from 9 October 1991 clearly indicates

a legitimate expectation on part of the SSC officers (both men and women) of

being governed by the provisions of Regulation 203 being considered for the

grant of PCs. The Navy Regulations, when they were originally drafted in 1963,

did not contemplate the induction of women. For this reason, Regulations 122(2),

124(2) and 126(2) spoke of only ―unmarried males‖ being eligible for induction on

SSCs. The Regulations being subservient to statute, incorporated restrictions

which comported with the provisions of Section 9(2). However, what Section 9(2)

39
PART E

envisages is that the restrictions on the enrolment or appointment of women in

branches or departments of the Indian Navy would be lifted upon the issuance of

a notification by the Union Government sanctioning the entry of women officers,

subject to the conditions which may be specified. Both in the notifications dated 9

October 1991 and 6 November 1998, the Union Government lifted the statutory

bar in exercise of its enabling power under Section 9(2) by allowing for the entry

for women as officers in the Indian Navy in stipulated branches. Once the

statutory bar stood lifted, the appointment of SSC officers, both men and women

on PCs would be governed uniformly by the provisions of Regulation 203. This

was made abundantly clear by the policy letter dated 25 February 1999 which

was issued in compliance with the legal regime. The grant of PCs to SSC men

and women officers aligned with the provisions of Regulation 203 which plainly is

a matter of law. Thus, the contention urged by Mr Sanjay Jain, learned Additional

Solicitor General that the communication dated 25 February 1999 was merely

anticipatory in nature and that the entitlement to be considered for the grant of

PCs would have to await a further policy, which came into being on 26

September 2008 cannot be accepted. The communication dated 25 February

1999 of the MoD had the sanction of the President and consequently cannot be

disregarded as suggested in the arguments urged by the Union of India in these

proceedings.

66. In addition to the above observations, in Priya Khurana’s case which

concerned women officers of the 2002 batch, an advertisement had been issued

by the authorities inviting applications from men and women for joining as SSC

officers in the ATC and Logistics cadres and the Education branch. The

40
PART E

advertisement clearly stipulated that based on their performance and the

requirements of service, deserving officers ―may also be considered for

Permanent Commission.‖ Subsequent employment notices issued in 2003-4 did

not contain such a stipulation. The employment notice of July 2002 was not in

conflict with the provisions contained in Regulations 203. Regulation 203 uses

the phrase ―from time to time‖, indicating thereby that it was open to the

competent authority to determine the grant of PCs to the SSC officers based on

the availability of vacancies, suitably and the recommendation of the Chief of the

Naval Staff. Hence, in July 2002, when the Navy invited applications for SSCs in

stipulated branches, it held out a clear representation that deserving cases may

be considered for the grant of PCs.

67. The policy decision of the MoD dated 26 September 2008 governed the

grant of PCs to SSC women officers in the Army, Navy and Air Force. The

communication, by stipulating that it would apply to SSC women officers ―to be

inducted‖, purported to exclude women SSC officers in service from being

considered for the grant of PCs. It also sought to restrict the cadres/branches in

which PCs could be granted to women SSC officers. The AFT has noted after it

had summoned the files, that the earlier policy decision of 25 February 1999 was

not placed before the decision making authorities. The AFT concluded that while

a policy framed by the government is amenable to change or alteration, decision

making by the government is subject to the norms of reasonableness and a non-

arbitrary exercise of power. The AFT noted:

―…the said record reveals that the Chairman of the COSC
never recommended that the policy should apply to
persons who have subsequently been recruited and shall
not apply to in-service SSC Officers…

41
PART E

The aforesaid record pertaining to the policy-decision
dated 26th September 2008 does not reveal consideration
of the existing policy-decision dated 25 February 1999. No
deliberation, as it appears from the aforesaid record, was
made as to why the existing policy relating to the grant of
PC to SSC officers, irrespective of the gender, as well as
the branches/cadres requires modification/change. The
said record reveals that even the Raksha Mantri was kept
in the dark about the existing policy-decision dated 25
February 1999. Though the respondent-authorities are
free to change their earlier policy, the reason for the
change must be reflected on the record pertaining to such
change, so also the consideration as well as the
deliberation on the existing policy, which as discussed
above, are absent in the case at hand‖

Evidently, in the view of the AFT, the decision which was arrived at on 26

September 2008 was not a conscious departure from the earlier policy of 25

February 1999. It could not have been a conscious departure for the simple

reason that the earlier policy was not evaluated nor was there any basis

formulated to justify a departure from it.

We must note at this stage that no submission has been urged on behalf of the

Union of India by Mr Sanjay Jain, learned Additional Solicitor General

controverting the above findings of the AFT. Quite apart from this however, there

is a more fundamental reason why a finding in regard to the invalidity of the policy

letter dated 26 September 2008 in relation to the Navy rests on a sure

foundation. The 1963 Regulations contain specific provisions in regard to the

grant of SSCs and for the grant of PCs. As we have noted, Regulations 122, 124

and 126 govern the grant of SSCs, while Regulation 203 governs the grant of

PCs. Regulation 203, in its own terms, is not restricted in its application to only

male officers. Once the appointment of women officers in the Indian Navy was

42
PART F

permitted in terms of the statutory notifications dated 9 October 1991 and 6

November 1998, the statutory bar under Section 9(2) stood lifted and women

officers inducted on SSCs would be entitled to be governed by Regulation 203.

Hence, the policy letter dated 26 September 2008 to the extent it seeks to restrict

the grants of PCs to specified cadres/branches as well as only to women officers

―to be inducted‖ is contrary to the notifications dated 9 October 1991 and 6

November 1998 and shall not be enforced. The policy letter dated 26 September

2008 was not in supersession of the statutory notifications dated 9 October 1991

and 6 November 1998. At the highest it may be construed as an administrative

decision to implement the statutory notifications. Hence, it cannot be construed to

be prospective in character as any other view to the contrary would be in violation

of Section 9(2) of the Act. The conclusion which was arrived at by the High Court

and by AFT is unimpeachable in its logical consistency and is in keeping with the

legal regime envisaged by the 1957 Act, the 1963 Regulations and the

notifications issued on 9 October 1991, 6 November 1998 and 25 February 1999.

F The stereotypical sailor

68. The battle for gender equality is about confronting the battles of the mind.

History is replete with examples where women have been denied their just

entitlements under law and the right to fair and equal treatment in the workplace.

In the context of the Armed Forces, specious reasons have been advanced by

decision makers and administrators. They range from physiology, motherhood

and physical attributes to the male dominated hierarchies. A hundred and one

excuses are no answer to the constitutional entitlement to dignity, which attaches

43
PART F

to every individual irrespective of gender, to fair and equal conditions of work and

to a level playing field. A level playing field ensures that women have the

opportunity to overcome their histories of discrimination with the surest of

responses based on their competence, ability and performance.

69. In the decision of this Court by the present Bench in Babita Puniya, this

Court has dwelt on the need to change mind sets if equality for women is to be

achieved in the Armed Forces. In Babita Puniya, this Court dealt with the

submissions of the Union Government that women are ill-suited to assume

command roles in the Indian Army. Male officers, it was urged, would be averse

to taking orders from women. Women, this Court was informed share an undue

burden of marital obligations and the responsibilities of motherhood and child

bearing. These arguments, based upon the physiological attributes of women,

were employed to justify the unequal treatment of men and women officers.

70. These submissions which are based on deeply entrenched stereotypes

came to be rejected by this Court in emphatic terms:

―The submissions advanced in the note tendered to this
Court are based on sex stereotypes premised on
assumptions about socially ascribed roles of gender which
discriminate against women. Underlying the statement
that it is a ―greater challenge‖ for women officers to meet
the hazards of service ―owing to their prolonged absence
during pregnancy, motherhood and domestic obligations
towards their children and families‖ is a strong stereotype
which assumes that domestic obligations rest solely on
women. Reliance on the ―inherent physiological
differences between men and women‖ rests in a deeply
entrenched stereotypical and constitutionally flawed
notion that women are the ―weaker‖ sex and may not
undertake tasks that are ―too arduous‖ for them.

Arguments founded on the physical strengths and
weaknesses of men and women and on assumptions
about women in the social context of marriage and family

44
PART F

do not constitute a constitutionally valid basis for denying
equal opportunity to women officers…

Such a line of submission is disturbing as it ignores the
solemn constitutional values which every institution in the
nation is bound to uphold and facilitate… To cast
aspersion on their abilities on the ground of gender is an
affront not only to their dignity as women but to the dignity
of the members of the Indian Army – men and women –
who serve as equal citizens in a common mission.‖

71. The submissions which were urged before this Court on behalf of the

Union of India in Babita Puniya which dealt with women SSC officers in the

Army have found an echo in the present appeals which deal with SSC women

officers in the Indian Navy. Originally, in the written submissions which were filed

in these proceedings (‗Brief note on behalf of the appellants‘), it was urged that

sailing in the Indian Navy is not a proper avocation for women. The written

submissions contain the following statement:

―There is also a strong contemporaneous rationale for not
considering women as sailors in the Indian Navy as the
Navy ships of today are not structured nor have the
infrastructure to accommodate women sailors alongside
men sailors. There is a common barrack and a common
bathroom, built as such that no temporary arrangement is
possible to be made as they are built on of Russian
models where there is no provision made for women as
sailors. Navy is endeavoring to create such
infrastructure…it clearly emerges that women are kept
away from sea-going duties purely on operational grounds
and not on the grounds of gender discrimination.‖

72. In the revised note of submissions which has been placed on the record,

the above paragraph does not find a reference. Significantly however, the same

submissions, though absent in the written note which was subsequently tendered

before this Court, has been stressed at the forefront of the submissions which

were made before this Court by the learned ASG. The submission was that:

45
PART F

(i) Certain avenues such as sea-sailing duties are ill-suited for women

officers as there is no return to the base, unlike in the Army and the Air

Force; and

(ii) In vessels of a Russian origin which are deployed by the Indian Navy,

no provision has been made for women as sailors and there are no

bathrooms to accommodate them.

73. The above reasons are illusory and without any foundation. Women

officers have worked shoulder to shoulder with their men counterparts in every

walk of service. The supposed explanations based on duties at sea or Russian

vessels are devices adopted to justify an action which is not germane to the

proper discharge of duties and the maintenance of discipline among members of

the Armed Forces. These submissions which have been made by the ASG are

plainly contrary to the policy letter dated 25 February 1999 issued by the MoD to

the Chief of the Naval Staff. The policy letter emphatically stipulates that women

officers of all branches/cadres could be directed to serve on board ships both

during training and subsequent employment in accordance with the exigencies of

service. In the face of this communication, it is impossible to countenance a

submission that women cannot sail alongside men sailors.

74. Quite apart from the policy letter dated 25 February 1999, the contention

that certain sea-going duties are ill-suited to women officers is premised on sex

stereotypes that male officers are more suited to certain duties by virtue of the

physiological characteristics. As this Court has noted in Babita Puniya,

arguments founded on the physical strengths and weaknesses of men and

46
PART F

women do not constitute a constitutionally valid basis for denying equal

opportunity to women officers. To accept the contention urged by the ASG would

be to approve the socially ascribed gender roles which a commitment to equal

worth and dignity of every individual belies.

75. In the compilation of documents which forms a part of the record, there is

documentary evidence of the accolades which have been bestowed on women

officers in the Indian Navy. In 1993, Commander Ruby Singh became the first

Indian woman to lead a platoon in the contingent of the Indian Navy at Raj Path

on Republic Day. INSV Tarini which circumnavigated the globe comprised of an

all women crew. Sub-lieutenant Shivangi became the first pilot for the Indian

Navy. The achievements of some of the women officers of the Indian Navy have

been set down in the form of a tabulated chart which we consider necessary to

extract:

1 Lieutenant Sandhya Suri Served on board the warship INS
Jyoti
2 Commander Reena Served onboard INS Sujatha
Magdalene (2002); She received the Chief of
Naval Staff commendation and
was awarded the Best Instructor
award at INS Valsura (1998)
3 Commander Suhas Received CinC Commendation as
Patankar well as the Best Instructor Award
(INS Shivaji)
4 Commander Anuradha Received the Chief of Naval Staff
Kanchi and Commander commendation.

               Babita Rawat
           5   Commanders        Shivani, Received the Vice-Chief of Naval
               Rajeshwari     Kori     and Staff commendation.


                                            47
                                                                              PART G


              Bhawna Salaria

Naval officers Anuradha Chauhan, Anupama Chauhan, Pawan
Preet Maan, Shilpa, Prabha Lal, Savitri Panwar, Pushpa Pandey
and Rupali Rohatgi were all awarded the CinC Commendation.

76. Performance at work and dedication to the cause of the nation are the

surest answers to prevailing gender stereotypes. To deprive serving women

officers of the opportunity to work as equals with men on PCs in the Indian Navy

is plainly discriminatory. Furthermore, to contend that women officers are ill-

suited to certain avocations which involve them being aboard ships is contrary to

the equal worth of the women officers who dedicate their lives to serving in the

cause of the nation.

G Ex turpi causa non oritur actio

77. The Delhi High Court and the AFT have differed on the nature of the reliefs

which have been granted in the separate batch of cases adjudicated by them.

The Delhi High Court has held that SSC officers of the Navy who had opted for

but were not granted PCs and were instead granted an extension on SSC but

had not retired at the time of the institution of the Writ Petitions should be offered

PCs within a period of six weeks, though they had attained the age of retirement

during the pendency of the petitions. They were held to be entitled to all

consequential benefits such as promotions and other financial benefits subject to

medical fitness. As regards those of the petitioners who had attained the age of

superannuation prior to the filing of Writ Petitions, the High Court directed their

48
PART G

reinstatement within six weeks subject to the decision of this Court in Babita

Puniya. These petitioners, it was held, would be entitled to no benefits.

78. The AFT disagreed with the direction of the High Court for the grant of PCs

and directed the authorities to consider the cases of the SSC officers for the grant

of PCs. The AFT was of the view that as it does not possess the requisite

expertise and necessary materials for determining whether PCs should be

granted, such a decision must be left to the relevant authorities. However, the

AFT directed that until such consideration was made and a decision was taken,

the applicants before it would be allowed to continue as SSC officers on existing

terms and conditions as applicable to them. The ultimate direction that was

issued by the AFT is also the subject matter of the appeals by the SSC officers

before this Court. According to them, the wider direction issued by the Delhi High

Court for the grant of PCs should have been adopted by the AFT and the mere

direction for consideration will not provide any substantial relief to the officers.

79. At this stage, it would be material to note that during the pendency of the

appeal filed by the Union of India arising from the judgment of the Delhi High

Court in Annie Nagaraja’s case, an interim order was passed by this Court on 20

November 2015 while issuing notice by which (i) those of the petitioners before

the High Court who were serving as SSC officers in the Navy on 26 September

2008 were allowed to continue on the terms and conditions applicable to them;

and (ii) those who had been released from service after 26 September 2008 upon

completion of SSC tenures would be allowed to rejoin in that capacity and to

continue in service.

49
PART G

80. By this order, protection was restricted only to those officers before this

Court who were in service on 26 September 2008. Respondent Nos 2 to 6 were

commissioned as officers of the Indian Navy as SSC officers between 13 July

1992 and 12 August 1994 and were among the first batch of women officers in

the Navy. They were released from service between 12 July 2006 and 11 August

200826. These officers were released before the issuance of the policy letter

dated 26 September 2008. Consequently, the protection of the interim order of

this Court was not extended to these officers.

81. The case of these officers is that the 1963 Regulations as well as the

policy letter dated 25 February 1999 existed when they were in service which

entitled them to be considered for the grant of PCs. Prior to their release from

service, they had submitted several representations to the concerned authority

requesting that they be considered for the grant of PCs. The applications, it was

urged, were forwarded by their commanding officers recommending the grant of

PCs which signifies their capabilities, merit and work to serve as PC officers in

the Indian Navy. The grievance of these officers is that their request was not

considered and that the Navy kept silent about the policy letter dated 25 February

1999 which, according to the them, had come to light much later.

82. It was urged that the Air Force accepted the decision of the Delhi High

Court in Babita Puniya and reinstated women officers who had retired. Similar

steps, it was urged, ought to have been undertaken by the Army. However, as a

result of the interim order of this Court, Respondent Nos 2 to 6 were not

26
Date of release are – Commander R Prasanna (R2 – 12 July 2006), Commander Puja Chhabra (R3 – 31 July
2006, Commander Saroj Kumari (R4 – 8 August 2007), Commander Sumita Balooni (R5 – 8 August 2008) and
Commander E Prasanna (11 August 2008).

50
PART G

reinstated and have filed an application seeking a modification of the order27.

Respondent Nos 2 to 6 urged that they are entitled to be considered for the grant

of PCs in view of the policy letter dated 25 February 1999. They claim to have

been gravely prejudiced by the conduct of the Navy and the interim order of this

Court. The principle of actus curiae neminem gravabet – an act of court should

prejudice no one – has been pressed in aid of this submission. Though these

respondents have been out of service for between twelve to fourteen years, it has

been submitted that the work in their departments is of such a nature that being

out of service should not stand in the way of their being reinstated. In support of

this, it was urged that fresh persons are inducted with six months‘ training.

Consequently, it was urged that the officers having served for fourteen years,

there is no difficulty in the way of this Court passing an order for their

reinstatement in service.

83. In the appeals arising out of the judgment of the AFT in Priya Khurana’s

case, an interim order was passed by this Court on 28 October 2016 directing the

continuation in service of the SSC women officers in that capacity until further

orders. There was no stay on the judgment of the AFT in Priya Khurana’s case

by this Court. In terms of the judgment, the Navy was required to consider the

case of every officer in terms of Regulation 203 read with the policy dated 25

February 1999. As a result of the Navy not having implemented the judgment of

the AFT since 2016, there has been a cascading effect and nearly thirty officers

(this Court was informed during hearing) have filed cases before the AFT, the

outcome of which depends on the judgment of this Court in these appeals.

27

IA No 71158 of 2017

51
PART G

84. Mr Santosh Krishnan, learned counsel submitted that if this Court were to

accept the view of the AFT and direct the ‗mere‘ consideration of the

representations for the grant of PCs, a piquant situation would arise since any

such consideration would be rendered futile at least in respect of one cadre,

namely Logistics. The Logistics cadre is stated to be saturated or overborne as a

result of the staffing practices which have been followed by the Navy in the

interregnum. Furthermore, two Lieutenant Commanders (Lt. Commander Kaberi

Kasturi and Lt. Commander Vijeta Yadav) were ordered to be released from

service on the ground that the cadre is saturated. The submission which has

been urged is that this excuse of the cadre being saturated has been improvised

to prevent a judicial review of the systemic gender discrimination in the

recruitment and retention practices of the Navy. This is sought to be highlighted

by the following submissions:

(i) While serving women SSC officers are being denied extensions in their

SSC tenure or the grant of PCs on the ground that the Logistics cadre

is ‗overborne‘, the Navy is recruiting fresh hands in the same cadre;

(ii) Nearly 160 men were recruited in the Logistics cadre over the previous

ten years directly on PCs, out of whom between 25 and 30 officers

were recruited over the previous five years;

(iii) The Navy has defended this recruitment by claiming that fresh recruits

―maintain the youthful profile of the force‖. This contention cannot be

reconciled with the fact that the Navy is offering re-employment to

superannuated male officers (aged 52 years and above) at the level of

52
PART G

Commanders in the Logistics cadre on account of the shortage of

personnel;

(iv) Re-employment of such special duty officers is permissible only where

there is a shortage of personnel in the cadre in question, which is

evident from a policy letter dated 24 June 2013;

(v) Though, there is no separate Logistics cadre for special duty officers,

yet, an informal quota has been carved out for male officers to continue

in service, even after superannuation;

(vi) Since the special duty officers have risen from the ranks, they can

tenant only certain billets within the Logistics cadre. In contrast, women

officers in the Logistics cadre can tenant those billets as well as others,

if required. They have been uniformly trained as officers and have

passed various qualifying examinations during employment. Yet

ironically, it is women officers who are required to exit as a result of the

‗cadre saturation‘;

(vii) Despite the Navy being required to consider all serving women SSC

personnel for the grant of PC, not a single SSC woman officer in the

Logistics cadre from any batch has been considered till date; and

(viii) If the Navy had considered the application of every Logistics officer on

their own merit, there would have been no organizational difficulty of

saturation faced in any cadre. Yet, the Navy had continued to insist that

it is only the policy letter dated 26 September 2008 which will govern all

cases for the grant of PCs, though it was struck down by both the Delhi

High Court as well as the AFT.

53
PART G

In other words, it has been submitted that SSC women officers from the Logistics

cadre have been driven to pursue their remedies in courts and are now

confronted with the plea that the cadre is overborne. This, it is urged, is a travesty

of justice.

85. In order to present to this Court a complete picture of the impact of the

decision in these cases, the status of the cases has been depicted as follows:

(i) Annie Nagaraja’s case involves seventeen officers. From the 2002-03

batch (Priya Khurana’s case), there are seven officers before this

Court who have secured protection against release. Altogether before

this Court, there are twenty one serving officers including ten retired

officers (including a few men) who are seeking relief;

(ii) Of the serving officers in Annie Nagaraja’s case, most have rendered

services in excess of twenty years. Officers in Priya Khurana’s case

have rendered continuous service of eighteen years till date; and

(iii) About thirty officers are involved in pending litigation before the AFT

from batches subsequent to the officers in Priya Khurana’s case. Of

them, a few officers are moving the courts agitating their grievance in

regard to the non-consideration of their entitlement for the grant of PCs.

In these circumstances, it has been submitted that the Court may consider the

issuance of directions pari materia to those which were issued by this Court in

sub-paragraphs (a), (b), (c), (d) and (f) of paragraph 69 in Babita Puniya’s case.

This, it has been urged, would be appropriate since the same policy letter dated

54
PART G

26 September 2008 was the subject matter of the judgment of this Court in

Babita Puniya.

86. Opposing the above submissions, Mr Sanjay Jain has placed on the record

three charts. The first chart depicts the cadre strength in the Indian Navy:

CADRE STRENGTH IN THE INDIAN NAVY

Cadre/ Stabilised Temp Total Sanction Officers Cadre Officers
Branch Cadre (a) Sanction (a) +(b) in- Status – Court

(b) service Order

Logistics 485 42 527 574 + 57 31
Education 343 5 348 345 Minus 03 31
Naval 279 108 387 399 +11 11
Constructor
ATC 88 0 88 110 +22 04

87. The second chart presents a comparative analysis of inductions and

retirements in the past three years:

Year                            Inductions                     Retirements
2017                            15                             20 (13 PC + 07 SSC)
2018                            12                             24 (08 PC + 16 SSC)
2019                            26                             27 (05 PC + 22 SSC)
Total                           53                             71



88. The third chart deals with the status of re-employment of Special Duty

Commissioned Officers. These officers have been promoted from the other ranks

(sailors) in the Indian Navy. They are being given re-employment in service

because of a shortage against sanctioned strength. The sanctioned strength, it

has been submitted, is not interchangeable with other Logistics officers. The third

chart is reproduced below:

 Cadre                          Govt. Sanction                  Held Strength
 SD (Stores)                    28                              27
 SD (Writer)                    44                              38

                                              55
                                                                                    PART G


89. While considering the defence of the Union of India, urged by the ASG,

that the cadres are ―overborne‖ and ―saturated‖, the assessment of this Court

must be based on the following position:

(i) Neither the judgment of the Delhi High Court nor the judgment of the

AFT was stayed during the pendency of these appeals. The Union

Government and the Naval authorities could not have proceeded on the

misconceived basis that the mere pendency of the present appeals was

a license to not comply with the directions contained in the judgments

of the High Court and the AFT. As a result of the failure of the

authorities to consider the SSC officers for the grant of PCs, their status

continued in a state of uncertainty, effectively depriving them not only of

the benefits which would accrue to them in terms of career

advancement but also the ability to occupy progressively higher

positions in the hierarchy upon the grant of PCs;

(ii) While the Union Government and the Naval authorities did not consider

any SSC women officers for the grant of PCs, it has now claimed that

the cadre is saturated. This position has transpired precisely as a result

of the failure to implement the directions of the Delhi High Court and of

the AFT, while at the same time continuing to make recruitments which

is now held up as a ground for the cadres being saturated;

(iii) The right to be considered for the grant of PCs arose under the policy

dated 25 February 1999. The policy letter dated 26 September 2008

was issued oblivious to the earlier policy document and had the effect

of denying benefits to SSC officers who were in saddle, besides

56
PART G

restricting the cadres/branches in which SSC officers could be granted

PCs. Though the policy letter dated 26 September 2008 was declared

to be invalid by the High Court and by the AFT, the authorities have

relied upon either the absence of vacancies or the prospective

application of the policy letter dated 26 September 2008 to deny relief

to SSC officers; and

(iv) If the Naval authorities had considered SSC officers for the grant of

PCs in terms of the policy letter dated 25 February 1999, that would

have obviated a situation of saturation of cadres with which the SSC

officers are now sought to be confronted as a ground to deny them

relief to which they were legitimately entitled in terms of the policy dated

25 February 1999;

90. Taking into consideration the above, we find merit in the grievance which

has been urged on behalf of the SSC officers that the present situation has arisen

as a plain consequence of the actions of the Naval authorities in:

(i) The failure to implement the statutory notifications under Section 9(2)

dated 9 October 1991 and 6 November 1998;

(ii) The failure to abide by the policy letter dated 25 February 1999; and

(iii) The breach of the obligation to implement the judgments of the Delhi

High Court and the AFT which had not been stayed and has resulted in

the creation of an impasse for the SSC women officers.

91. Once the policy decision of the Union Government was communicated on

25 February 1999, the authorities were bound to consider the claims of the SSC

officers for the grant of PC in terms of Regulation 203. The naval authorities and

57
PART G

the Union Government failed to do so, depriving them of the entitlement to be

considered for the grant of PC. By the failure of the authorities to consider the

SSC officers for PCs in terms of the policy communication of 25 February 1999,

SSC officers lost out on the opportunity to be granted PCs and all the

responsibilities and benefits attached to the grant of PC, including promotions

and pensionable service. The situation which has come to pass is due to the

failure of the authorities to implement statutory notifications issued under Section

9(2) the policy statement of 25 February 1999 by which they were bound and as

the decisions of the Delhi High Court and the AFT. These SSC officers cannot be

left in the lurch and the injustice meted to them by lost years of service and the

deprivation of retiral entitlements must be rectified. The injustice is a direct

consequence of the authorities having breached their duties under law, as

explained above. To deny substantive relief to the SSC officers would result in a

situation where a breach of duty on the part of the authorities to comply with

binding legal norms would go unattended. This would result in a serious

miscarriage of justice to the SSC officers who have served the nation and is

unsustainable in law.

92. The second to sixth respondents in Annie Nagaraja’s case had retired

upon the completion of fourteen years of service prior to the issuance of the

policy letter dated 26 September 2008. Of these officers, three officers are from

the Logistic cadre, one officer is from the Education branch and one officer is

from the ATC cadre. The Delhi High Court had issued directions for the

reinstatement of the second to sixth respondents. These officers are:

58
PART G

Commander R Prasanna, Commander Puja Chhabra, Commander Saroj Kumar,

Commander Sumita Balooni and Commander E Prasanna.

93. By virtue of the interim order of this Court dated 20 November 2015,

protection was extended to only those SSC women officers who were in service

on 26 November 2008. This cut-off date was evidently adopted with reference to

the policy communication dated 26 September 2008.

94. We have considered the case of these women officers who were denied

being considered for the grant of PCs. The interim order of this Court was based

on the policy dated 26 September 2008 which envisaged the grant of PCs on a

prospective basis to officers ―to be inducted‖ in the future. The prospective

application of the policy dated 26 September 2008 has been held to be invalid.

We cannot ignore the fact that it was because of a restricted interim order passed

by this Court that the above five respondents were not reinstated during the

pendency of the appeals. Had they been reinstated, as directed by the High

Court, they would have been in service in the interregnum and would have been

entitled to be considered for the grant of PCs together with all other

consequential benefits. These officers must be provided restitution for the

consequences suffered by them by the failure of the authorities to have

considered them for the grant of PC, and despite of the order of the Delhi High

Court which had directed their reinstatement. Where a situation which

detrimentally affects the rights of citizens arises as a result of an order of the

Court, it is the duty of the court to remedy the situation and to rectify the injustice

to the extent that is possible.

59
PART G

95. As we have noted, the right of women SSC officers to be considered for

the grant of PCs in the Logistics and Education cadres arose by virtue of the

policy letter dated 25 February 1999. The non-consideration of the case of these

five officers for the grant of PCs arose out of the actions of the Union

Government in issuing a restricted policy dated 26 September 2008 which has

caused serious prejudice to these women officers. These officers were among

the first inductee batches of women SSC officers in the Navy and committed

themselves to serving in the cause of the nation.

The second to sixth respondents who had been released prior to 2008 have been

out of service for twelve years and more. Consistent with the exigencies of

service, it would not be appropriate to direct their reinstatement. However,

following the logic of the directions of this Court in Babita Puniya, we are of the

view that a one-time measure should be issued in exercise of the powers under

Article 142 of the Constitution. These officers who were released prior to 2008

after completing their engagement should be deemed to have completed

substantive pensionable service and to have qualified for the grant of pension on

the basis that they have fulfilled the minimum qualifying service in a substantive

capacity. In addition to the grant of pensionary benefits, as a one-time measure,

respondents two to six should be directed to be paid a lump sum amount of ₹ 25

lakhs each as compensatory measure for lost years of service and the serious

injustice which has been meted out to them. We clarify that our decision to award

compensation is not a reflection of any malice on the part of the Naval authorities

but a measure of compensation for the women officers who have been deprived

of a valuable opportunity to render service and shoulder responsibilities.


                                        60
                                                                                  PART H


H             Directions



96.           We hold and direct that:

      (i)        The statutory bar on the engagement or enrolment of women in the

Indian Navy has been lifted to the extent envisaged in the notifications

issued by the Union Government on 9 October 1991 and 6 November

1998 under Section 9(2) of the 1957 Act;

(ii) By and as a result of the policy decision of the Union Government in the

Ministry of Defence dated 25 February 1999, the terms and conditions

of service of SSC officers, including women in regard to the grant of

PCs are governed by Regulation 203, Chapter IX, Part III of the 1963

Regulations;

(iii) The stipulation in the policy letter dated 26 September 2008 making it

prospective and restricting its application to specified cadres/branches

of the Indian Navy shall not be enforced;

(iv) The provisions of the implementation guidelines dated 3 December

2008, to the extent that they are made prospective and restricted to

specified cadres are quashed and set aside;

(v) All SSC officers in the Education, Law and Logistics cadres who are

presently in service shall be considered for the grant of PCs. The right

to be considered for the grant of PCs arises from the policy letter dated

25 February 1999 read with Regulation 203 of Chapter IX Part III of the

1963 Regulations. SSC women officers in the batch of cases before the

High Court and the AFT, who are presently in service shall be

considered for the grant of PCs on the basis of the vacancy position as
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PART H

on the date of judgments of the Delhi High Court and the AFT or as it

presently stands, whichever is higher;

(vi) The period of service after which women SSC officers shall be entitled

to submit applications for the grant of PCs shall be the same as their

male counterparts;

(vii) The applications of the serving officers for the grant of PCs shall be

considered on the basis of the norms contained in Regulation 203

namely: (i) availability of vacancies in the stabilised cadre at the

material time; (ii) determination of suitability; and (iii) recommendation

of the Chief of the Naval Staff. Their empanelment shall be based on

inter se merit evaluated on the ACRs of the officers under

consideration, subject to the availability of vacancies;

(viii) SSC officers who are found suitable for the grant of PC shall be entitled

to all consequential benefits including arrears of pay, promotions and

retiral benefits as and when due;

(ix) Women SSC officers of the ATC cadre in Annie Nagaraja’s case are

not entitled to consideration for the grant of PCs since neither men nor

women SSC officers are considered for the grant of PCs and there is

no direct induction of men officers to PCs. In exercise of the power

conferred by Article 142 of the Constitution, we direct that as a one-time

measure, SSC officers in the ATC cadre in Annie Nagaraja’s case

shall be entitled to pensionary benefits. SSC officers in the ATC cadre

in Priya Khurana’s case, being inducted in pursuance of the specific

representation contained in the advertisements pursuant to which they

62
PART H

were inducted, shall be considered for the grant of PCs in accordance

with directions (v) and (vi) above;

(x) All SSC women officers who were denied consideration for the grant of

PCs on the ground that they were inducted prior to the issuance of the

letter dated 26 September 2008 and who are not presently in service

shall be deemed, as a one-time measure, to have completed

substantive pensionable service. Their pensionary benefits shall be

computed and released on this basis. No arrears of salary shall be

payable for the period after release from service;

(xi) As a one-time measure, all SSC women officers who were before the

High Court and the AFT who are not granted PCs shall be deemed to

have completed substantive qualifying service for the grant of pension

and shall be entitled to all consequential benefits; and

(xii) Respondents two to six in the Civil Appeals arising out of Special Leave

Petition (C) Nos 30791-96 of 2015, namely Commander R Prasanna,

Commander Puja Chhabra, Commander Saroj Kumar, Commander

Sumita Balooni and Commander E Prasanna shall be entitled, in

addition to the grant of pensionary benefits, as a one-time measure, to

compensation quantified at ₹ 25 lakhs each.

97. We affirm the clarification which has been issued in sub-para (a) of

paragraph 50 of the impugned judgment and order of the Delhi High Court.

98. Compliance with the above directions shall be effected within three months

from the date of this judgment. We accordingly dispose of the appeals.

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PART H

99. There shall be no order as to costs. Pending application(s), if any, stand

disposed of.

………………………….……………………..J.

[Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud]

…..…..…….………..……………….………..J.

[Ajay Rastogi]

New Delhi;

March 17, 2020.

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