The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected the Centre’s plea to allow women to sit for the National Defence Academy (NDA) exams from next year, saying it doesn’t want women to be denied their right. They will be able to sit for the exams in November this year.
A bench headed by Justice S K Kaul said it will be difficult to accept the prayer “in view of the aspirations of the candidates willing to take the exam”. The bench also comprising of Justice B R Gavai said that the “Armed Forces have seen far emergent situations both at the border and in the country” and the court is “sure such training will come handy here.”
Asking the government to work out something, Justice Kaul remarked: “What answer would we have for the students who are on the anvil of taking the exam? Don’t ask us to effectively vacate the order. You go on with the exercise. Let us see the result and see how many get it.”
“We will thus not vacate the order passed by us. After we have given them hope, we don’t want to deny them”, the bench said referring to its August 18 interim order allowing women candidates to sit in the exams scheduled this year.
The court added that it will keep the plea filed by Advocate Kush Kalra pending so that directions can be sought as situations arise. Kalra had sought the court’s intervention to allow eligible women candidates to appear for the NDA exams conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
Though the Centre had initially termed it a matter of policy, the court refused to accept this and said the policy “is based on gender discrimination”. Subsequently, the government after discussions with service chiefs agreed to allow women candidates to sit for NDA but prayed for time till May 2022 so as to put the necessary arrangements in place.
In an affidavit filed in court, the Defence Ministry pointed to the need to formulate medical standards for the new women candidates. It also said that “while the education curriculum is well set, all the rest of aspects of the training are required to be formulated separately” and added that there is also the need to upgrade infrastructure depending on the intake strength of the women candidates depending on the operational, budgetary and administrative criteria.
Appearing for the Centre, Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati Wednesday conveyed the decision to allow them from May 2022 and urged the court to grant exemption this year. But the Bench did not agree and said “it has to be from this session only…”. She pointed out that a ministry had already set up a Study Group of experts to effect the necessary changes.
The court, however, pointed out that it had already passed interim orders and added that armed forces are best suited to deal with emergencies and that the court doesn’t think they will not be capable of accommodating the students who take the exam this year.