The army should provide a conducive work environment for its women officers, the Supreme Court said on Friday, as it asked the defence ministry to consider a representation by a 39-year-old female lieutenant colonel against her assignment at a place that does not have a crèche.
A bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud was hearing Lt Annu Colonel Dogra’s petition questioning her temporary posting that requires her to travel from Jodhpur to Nagpur to conduct court martial proceedings against an officer. The proceedings in Kamptee (Nagpur) deprive her of the fundamental right of tending to her infant child, she has stated in her petition. Dogra’s husband is also an army officer and is deputy judge advocate general (JAG) in Jodhpur.
The court found merit in Dogra’s arguments and told the counsel for the Centre to consider her request on humanitarian grounds. “We do not want to pass orders and expect you to respond to her representation and propose a workable solution for her,” Justice Chandrachud told the Centre’s advocate.
Senior advocate Rana Mukherjee and advocate Aishwarya Bhatti submitted on behalf of Dogra that her current assignment requires her to travel over 1,600 km alone with her two-year-old child at short notice. Also, the place of duty does not have family and community-based care arrangements, leading to neglect of her child.
After looking into the facts of the case, Justice Chandrachud said if the ministry wanted her to continue conducting the court martial proceedings, it must have amenable working conditions for her. “Somebody has to take care of her baby. You arrange for someone who can be there to look after the baby,” the judge said.
On being told that Dogra’s husband had taken one year’s advanced leave to stay in Kamptee to look after the child, the judge told the government counsel to transfer him along with his wife. “Why don’t you attach him there for a year until the court martial enquiry gets over?” the judge suggested.
He went on to say: “If you have women officers in the army, then you need to have workable conditions for them. Times have changed and you have so many women officers now. You cannot compare all army duties with combat duties. A place like Kamptee is not Siachen where you cannot have facilities.
The court will hear the case next on January 23.
Dogra’s petition also said that her representations to higher authorities to relieve her of her duties in Kamptee on compassionate grounds had gone unheeded. The army’s move to post a woman officer with an infant in a place that does not have creche and adequate day-care facilities is in violation of the National Policy for Children, 2013, she said.