In a major victory for the poster girl for rising woman power in the Indian armed forces, a military court pulled up the air force and reinstated Wing Commander Pooja Thakur in service, while asking it to consider her “without ill will” for granting her a permanent commission.
Thakur came up as the symbol of PM Modi’s showcasing of women power or ‘stree shakti’ in defence forces when she became the first woman officer in India to lead a guard of honour for American President Barack Obama in 2015.
After being denied extension in service, Thakur had moved court against the Air Force against her discharge and denial of permanent commission in service.
“We direct the reinstatement of Wg Cdr Thakur into service with direction that she will be considered by the Air Force expeditiously as permissible by constituting a board for grant of permanent commission, subject to there being a vacancy and her meeting with the other parameters prescribed,” the Armed Forces Tribunal bench headed by Justice VK Shali said.
The military court said Thakur’s lawyer Maj SS Pandey have expressed apprehension during the course of arguments that she may not be given fair treatment.
“We only hope and trust that the case of the applicant shall be considered without any rancor and ill will for having approached the tribunal for grant of Permanent Commission,” the court observed.
However, the court made it clear that while Thakur shall be reinstated with continuity of service for consideration of grant of permanent commission, she will not be entitled to remuneration or back wages for the period when she is assumed to have remained out of service and has not worked.
“Even if we assume she had made a request to remain in Delhi or in and around Delhi, it is the Air Force who have been obliging her…. Therefore, these submissions are in our view, totally irrelevant for deciding the question of grant of Permanent Commission,” the Tribunal said.
The court noted that the Air Force was opposing the applicant rather than being gracious to consider her case sympathetically.
“This was reflected from the fact that as many as five officers of fairly senior rank from the department of Judge Advocate General (legal Branch) were opposing the petition which gave a sense of vindictiveness as if at some point of time, being a female officer she had ruffled the feathers of her male counterparts,” the court stated.
The court also said the grant of permanent commission, especially to the Women Officers, must be given a liberal construction and it should be interpreted in a manner which would be beneficial to the women officers rather than the employer.
Commenting on the verdict, Thakur’s lawyer Maj Pandey said the court has given the direction to the air force to act fairly in considering Wg Cdr Thakur for permanent commission.
Permanent commission allows a woman officer get an opportunity to rise to the rank of lieutenant general and retire at 60 with full benefits that the men officers get.
Over a month after filing the case, Thakur’s tenure came to an end and she retired with her case still pending for final decision.