SC allows women to participate in NDA exam in Nov

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The apex court says their entry can’t be postponed

New Delhi, Sept 22 (PTI): Observing that induction of women to the NDA cannot be postponed by one year, the Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed female candidates to take the exam in November this year and not wait till May 2022 as requested by the government.

Refusing to accept the Centre’s request to allow women candidates to appear for the National Defence Academy (NDA) entrance from next year, the apex court said it doesn’t want women to be denied their right.

The Centre had told the top court that a notification allowing women candidates to appear for the NDA exam will be out by May next year.

A Study Group has been constituted by the Defence services, comprising of the experts to expeditiously formulate the comprehensive curriculum for women cadets at NDA, it had said, adding that a Board of Officers has been convened to give a holistic and futuristic proposal for training of women Cadets at NDA incorporating all relevant aspects.

A bench headed by justice S K Kaul said the armed forces are the best response team to deal with emergency situations and it is hopeful that necessary arrangements will be put in place to pave the way for the induction of women in NDA without delay.

As the hearing commenced, senior advocate Chinmoy Pradip Sharma told the bench that there are two exams that take place in a year – NDA I and NDA II.

“For the first exam, UPSC issues notification in January and for the second exam notification is issued in May and June. Exams take place in April for the January notification and for the June notification exam takes place in September. The process is such that joining takes place in the next year. So, if according to the government, the notification comes out in May 2022, the intake will happen in June 2023,” Sharma submitted.

He said the interim order permitting women candidates to take part in the NDA examination of the bench was very clear that for this exam, which is going to be held in November this year due to Covid-19, girls should be allowed to participate.

The bench said that to create some element of infrastructure, the Centre needs time but the absorption process of female candidates cannot be postponed by one year.

Additional solicitor general Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the Centre, stated that the Study Group has been constituted by the Defence services to examine the changes in curriculum, infrastructure, fitness training, accommodation facilities etc and sought for skipping the upcoming NDA entrance examination, scheduled to be held on November 14.

The bench, however, told the ASG that the process has to begin and other issues may go on in a phased manner.

“We appreciate all your problems. But I am sure you people are capable of finding solutions and not depriving another batch. In the interim order, we had said they would take the examination, let us see the results of how many women get through it. The planning can go on.

“We appreciate your endeavour to put before us the different areas which will have to be addressed. You have referred to fitness tests etc. But what we are finding it difficult to accept is to postpone everything by a year. Having given some hope to the women to take the examination in November, we don’t want to belie that hope now and say that somebody will get it in future,” the bench said.

Bhati said the delay will not be by a year and we are not denying it for the second exam of 2022.

There is a fixed number for every course of NDA and standards will have to be fixed, she said.

The top court said the issue is not so complex.

Exam has already been directed to be held and the interim orders have been issued in July, the bench said.

“The armed forces are people who deal with emergency and they are the best response team we can get in the country. I don’t believe that the armed forces response team will not be able to deal with this scenario. Please appreciate that many girls may not have enrolled for the exam this time. Therefore the numbers may be smaller this time. You can make arrangements for the larger number the next time. Instead of skipping the exam try to work out something for them,” the bench said.

The ASG, however, sought six months to be fully ready and said that the bench on the last hearing indicated that some latitude would be granted. “We will be in a very difficult and tight situation.”

The apex court said that it cannot unwind the clock and candidates are slated to appear for the examinations.

“People who are on the anvil of taking examinations. What answer do we have for them. Having gone this far we will say you may try your luck next time. This is what you are trying to say. We recognise all the issues. But don’t ask us to effectively vacate the order,” the bench said.

The top court kept the petition pending and will now be heard in third week January, 2022 for further directions if needed.

After the bench dictated its order advocate Mohit Paul, appearing for the petitioner, submitted that the UPSC is yet to issue the corrigendum notification.

The lawyer appearing for the UPSC told the bench that the authority is awaiting certain instructions from the Defence Ministry.

The apex court then directed that the needful be done by the Defence Department in this regard by collaborating with the UPSC.

“This is the transition phase, we don’t want to postpone the transition. This exam may not give the best results. But we are looking at the future,” the bench said.

The Centre had earlier informed the top court that the armed forces have decided to induct women into the NDA.

The apex court was hearing a plea filed by advocate Kush Kalra which has raised the issue of exclusion of eligible and willing female candidates from joining the prestigious NDA solely on the ground of sex which allegedly is a violation of fundamental right of equality.

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