The Supreme Court Wednesday sought responses from the Centre and others on a plea which has raised the issue of exclusion of eligible and willing female candidates from joining the prestigious National Defence Academy (NDA) solely on the ground of sex which allegedly is a violation of fundamental right of equality.
The plea has sought a direction to the concerned authorities to allow eligible female candidates to appear in the ‘National Defence Academy and Naval Academy Examination’ and train at the NDA.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde issued notices to the Centre, the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) and others seeking their responses on the plea which said “the categorical exclusion of eligible female candidates from entering the National Defence Academy is not constitutionally justifiable and is simply done on the basis of their sex."
The bench, also comprising justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, allowed a separate application filed by a Uttar Pradesh based woman seeking impleadment in the matter.
The plea filed by advocate Kush Kalra has referred to the February last year landmark verdict in which the apex court had directed that women officers in the Army be granted permanent commission and command postings.
The plea said that authorities allow unmarried male candidates having adequate 10+2 qualification to take the ‘National Defence Academy and Naval Academy Examination’, but eligible and willing female candidates are not allowed to take the examination on the sole ground of their sex and without any reasonable or justifiable explanations within the four corners of the Constitution.
It alleged that this act of discrimination is a “dishonour committed” by the concerned authorities to the constitutional values of equality and non-discrimination.
“The act of the respondents to categorically exclude eligible and willing female candidates from appearing for the National Defence Academy and Naval Academy Examination over the years, solely on the ground of sex, is a violation of the fundamental right of equality before the law and equal protection of the law,” it said.
It said that eligible female candidates having adequate 10+2 level of education are denied the opportunity to take the examination on the ground of their sex and the consequence of this denial is that they do not have access to any mode of entry to join the armed forces as officers at this level.
“Whereas, equally and similarly situated male candidates with 10+2 level of education have the opportunity to take the examination and after qualifying join the National Defence Academy to get trained to be commissioned as permanent commissioned officers in the Indian armed forces,” the plea said.
“The categorical exclusion of women to train at the National Defence Academy and get commissioned into the armed forces of the country as permanent commissioned officers solely on the basis of their sex is a denial of the fundamental right to practice any profession and it is not justifiable within the contours of the Indian Constitution,” it said.
It said that UPSC conducts the ‘National Defence Academy & Naval Academy Examination’ and as per eligibility criteria, any unmarried male candidate with the required educational qualification and aged between 15-18 years can appear in it.
It said that the candidate, on qualifying the exam and on successful completion of training at the NDA and subsequent training at the respective academy of the service the cadet opts for, gets commissioned into the service as a permanent commissioned officer by the age of 19-22 years old.
“This opportunity to take the National Defence Academy and Naval Academy Examination at the age of 15-18 years, with the eligible academic qualifications is not available to eligible and willing female candidates and the sole reason for this categorical exclusion is on the basis of their sex,” the plea said.
It claimed that duration of training for the Short Service Commission women officers is very less compared to the training that a male permanent commission officer, who gets entry through the NDA, gains.
The plea alleged that denying equal opportunity under the law by not allowing eligible and willing female candidates to appear in the examination “should not be used to perpetuate and continue the legal, social and economic inferiority of women.”
“Therefore, the state, having control over the opportunity to allow women entry into the National Defence Academy have no constitutional right to exclude eligible and qualified individuals from joining the National Defence Academy, getting trained in the most premier institute of military education and training in the country and developing and transforming themselves into inspiring and motivating leaders in the armed forces solely based on the wrong and flawed notions of gender roles and weaker sex perpetuated by the society,” the plea said.